Quantifying the Shifting International Market

Quantifying the Shifting International Market

The Supreme Court’s recent lifting of the legal blocks on the Trump Administration’s travel ban—although temporary and partial—has kept the issue of international student enrollments on the forefront for independent schools. Our community faces many unknowns as we attempt to support international students who call our campuses home. At The Enrollment Management Association, we are committed to supporting you with the latest information on this matter as you seek to adjust strategies and messages to attract and reassure prospective international families about their investment in your school.  We’ve gathered experts to offer their advice and managed our own research, to better understand the impact of national immigration policy on the independent school world.

In June, EMA released member survey results which quantify the anticipated changes in international student enrollment in our schools based on new U.S. immigration policy. In addition to gathering real-time data on inquiries, applications, and enrollment, we sought to better understand what you, in our schools, were hearing relative to international families’ concerns.

On the whole, our International Enrollment Trends report confirms that the independent school international market is in a state of flux. Findings show widespread changes in numbers of international inquiries, applications, and enrollment, as well as variation in which countries are most affected by the immigration policy changes. Only 55% of all schools reporting in this survey told us that international enrollment was “about the same” for 2016-17 compared to the previous year. To state the change bluntly, nearly half of the 252 schools that responded reported shifts in their international student markets.  Boarding schools reported odd changes in international applications with 23% experiencing a slight increase and 27% noting a slight decrease. Has your school seen similar numbers?

The survey collected feedback from admission leaders regarding a heightened level of concern from international families regarding ongoing enrollment in our institutions. The climate leading up to and following the 2016 election has created widespread dampening of global respect for our nation. Families applying for 2017-18 articulated concerns about: the perception that the U.S. is less welcoming (35%), the increased cost of education due to strength of the U.S. dollar (34% for all schools and 49% for boarding schools), the perception that it will be more difficult to obtain a visa (30%), and the worry that visa requirements will change (30%).

Our International Enrollment Trends survey report also illuminates the significant role international students now play in our enrollment strategy. A full 84% of responding schools now enroll F-1 visa holders—including 76% of day schools. And, we learned that a majority of our member schools intend to invest money and time to recruit internationally in the FY18 year (59% plan to spend about the same and 20% plan to spend more).

So, given what the survey confirms—the importance of international students, the market fluctuation, and the degree of family concern—how should independent schools adjust to “the new normal”?  

Spring 2017’s issue of The Yield explores these issues, summarizing both the challenges and opportunities as follows: “The good news is that student mobility shows no sign of slowing: By 2025, eight million students are projected to study outside their home countries. However, numerous fac­tors can and will impact enrollments—including currency fluctuations, in-country com­petition, government policies, and local economies, for example. Therefore, it behooves schools not to take any market for granted and to anticipate changes in this potentially volatile market.” In the same article, Pete Upham, executive director at The Association of Board­ing Schools (TABS), reflects that he sees many schools reassuring international parents and alumni of the schools’ values and engaging students in discussing these issues. He goes on to advise, “From an admission standpoint, [schools] are (or should be) diversifying their outreach overseas, in order to be less reliant on any one country or region. And they are (or should be) reinvesting in the domestic market as a natural hedge against potential disruptions to the flow of international students.

In the same issue of The Yield, NAIS General Counsel Debra Wilson offers insights to help schools stay on top of new regulations, visa application requirements, travel security, etc., to support international families. She, too, suggests reiterating to international families a school’s commitment to maintaining an open and welcoming community and to protecting students. The “Trump effect” means that we must both ensure students feel they have a place in our schools, and that we must specify contingency plans should issues arise due to increasing restrictions.

I’d be interested to hear how your enrollment strategy for international students has (or has not) adjusted in response to the recent policy changes.  Feel free to comment below, and begin a conversation about this important enrollment topic. International students have always been an essential part of the independent school community; we look forward to continuing our research to support your school in a fast-changing landscape.