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NAFSA research reveals student retention perception gap

International students and their educational institutions in the US have significantly different perceptions of student dissatisfaction, which could inhibit student retention factors, NAFSA research published this week reveals.

The study that can help institutions set transparent expectations with international students

“International students said access to jobs or internships, affordability, and availability of scholarships affect retention”

Based on 480 responses from 100 institutions and over 500 students from around 80 institutions, the national survey compares reasons given by institutions and international students to explain why international students quit their degrees before completion.

The reasons international students gave for being unsatisfied with their degree were evenly split among three main factors: access to jobs or internships (37%), affordability (36%), and availability of scholarships (34%).

Meal plans and quality of housing also featured in the top five reasons students gave.

Meanwhile, two thirds of education professionals thought reputation, finances, and academics were the most likely inhibitors to student retention.

“One of the key takeaways of the report is that poor retention is a function of the mismatch between expectations of students prior to enrolment and the actual experience of students once they are on campus,” Rahul Choudaha, Chief Knowledge Officer for World Education Services and the lead researcher for the report, explained.

The three-stage research process began with a literature review before proceeding onto the surveys.

Presenting the findings at NAFSA’s annual conference in San Diego, Choudaha added that the study’s analysis of the perception gap between students and their institutions was unique, and enabled it to stand apart from other research.

NAFSA’s Senior Director of International Enrolment Management/International Student & Scholar Services, Sheila Schulte, highlighted that the analysis of the differences between what institutions think and what students think as factors affecting retention “can inform practitioners of where and how to spend their time, money and energy to assist international students on their campuses.”

“Poor retention is a function of the mismatch between expectations of students prior to enrolment and the actual experience of students once they are on campus”

“The three main implications from the study that can help institutions set transparent expectations with international students are: understanding the diverse needs of the international student body, coordinating internationalisation efforts across campus, and investing in programs and services that improve student experiences,” she said.

Addressing NAFSA conference delegates, Schulte highlighted the “interdependency” of recruitment and retention practices, saying that it is important for institutions to give students a “realistic” idea of the costs they will face and the possibility of working on-campus during their study abroad before they enrol.

“More and more students are really taking an investment approach to their study abroad,” she added.

The full report will be made available online in the coming months.

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