Close to one million international students study in the United States — more than any other country in the world, according to data from the Institute for International Education. But they only make up about 4% of the entire postsecondary student body in the U.S.
Compare that to Australia, where 20% of higher education enrollment comes from international students, and you might conclude the U.S. could do better.
Carmen Neghina is the education intelligence specialist at Study Portals, an online platform that helps students find and compare educational programs abroad. According to Neghina, new data from Study Portals and The British Council reveals quite a bit of capacity in the United States, given the number of schools here. The two organizations teamed up to produce Through Student Eyes, a report that measures how well the top 1,000 universities across the globe communicate with students and openly advertise the information they need online.
Throughout 2014 and 2015, real students shopped these 1,000 universities and reported back about the schools' responsiveness and transparency.
Neghina said each university will get a personalized report showing what information their websites lacked and how well their admissions offices did at communicating with prospective international students. The reports also make recommendations for improvement.
“These are really quick actionable steps for universities,” Neghina said, ticking off three key improvements — updating a website, making information more visible, and replying to student emails. “These are all really very actionable, very doable. Maybe not all easy to implement but within the power of universities to do it.”
Through Student Eyes found Benelux and Scandinavian universities to be the most effective at serving prospective international students. They were followed by schools in Australia and New Zealand, then the United Kingdom and Ireland, German-speaking Europe, and the U.S. and Canada. Universities in non-German-speaking Europe as well as those in Asia followed in sixth and seventh place, trailed by the rest of the universities from remaining countries.
The report looked at three measures: findability, information and usability, and responsiveness. U.S. schools were easily found through established online presences, to about the same degree as top schools in the U.K. Where they trailed, however, was in the information and usability category and, to some extent, the responsiveness category.
International students, Neghina said, are looking for information about a U.S. university’s requirements around English language proficiency and their accreditation. The accreditation piece is key because there have been well-circulated scandals about international students getting duped into paying for expensive programs at institutions that do not have accreditation.
“The problem is there are so many different standards and it’s a complex policy with different criteria, different standards,” Neghina said. “If you’re trying to apply to more than one university in more than one country, then it’s really difficult to understand.”
When it came to responsiveness, one in five emails sent to universities during the research period did not receive a reply. U.S. universities that did reply often did so quickly — within just one day — but the fact that more than 20% didn’t reply at all was met with frustration.
Neghina pointed out that U.S. universities expect international students to pay a lot of money for their education. In fact, there is significantly more reporting in the United States about the rise in the international student population, in part due to colleges looking for more revenue from tuition.
“The fact that we don’t even reply to their emails … it can be really disappointing for the students and really discouraging,” Neghina said.
Interestingly enough, the study disaggregated its data based on school rankings for the top 500 schools in the U.S. and Canada. Those in the bottom quintile performed better than all but the top 100 schools, showing competition may be spurring those in the 401 to 500 sphere to work harder to attract students.
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