International Student Enrollment Trends

The Elliance team recently partnered with Manchester Business School’s Miami Center to market its unique global MBA program. Manchester Business School is a prestigious brand in the world of business education. Working with this global client has helped us appreciate some of the changing trends in the higher education world, including the enormous increase in the international student population in the US over the past few years.

At Elliance, we started noticing this trend in our own Analytics reports a few years ago. The initial indicator was an increase in search traffic from ‘international student enrollment’ and ‘international recruitment’ related phrases. To see how demand for ‘international student enrollment’ has changed over time, we used Ngram Viewer to chart out the mentions for this topic. In the chart below, we can see the trend appearing around the seventies and then really taking off in the late eighties and nineties.

More proof is evident in a recent Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange, which found an increase of 6% in international student enrollment over the previous year, to a record high in 2011/12. Another amazing finding in the report which really stood out is that most of these students coming to the US are paying for their education themselves rather than relying on college funded aid. Findings show that 64% of international students rely primarily on personal and family funds to pay for their education. As a result, international students contributed over $22 billion dollars to the US economy in 2011.

Part of the reason for these increasing stats is the growing number of US universities opening campuses abroad, thus increasing exposure to American higher education. For example, Carnegie Mellon University offers over a dozen degree programs outside the United States. Hult Business School calls itself the “most international business school” with campuses in US, London, Dubai and Sao Paulo. This international multi-campus strategy is not limited to US universities, but has become a global phenomenon with Australian and UK universities also opening campuses in other countries. Manchester Business School is actually one of the few with seven different global centers. However, the US still remains the top country for international students seeking higher education.

According to the Open Doors report, international students coming to the US are from China, India and South Korea. This is evident from another Wall Street Journal article which provides enrollment data to back up the increase in Chinese students to US business schools and specialized programs. Apart from these top three countries, students are coming from many other places in Asia and the Middle East. This influx of students has started to drive recruitment efforts by universities and the government to find opportunities in other Asian countries.

International student enrollment in the US is still pretty low at less than 4% of total US higher education enrollment. Only 5% of US institutions are hosting 66% of international students, with California and New York being the top states hosting 27% of the total. This is the time for smart institutions to take advantage of these opportunities — to gain a competitive edge for their own institution while benefiting the US economy and their students at the same time.