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US: international students say experience doesn’t justify cost

A new report looking at the overall value of a US education found students “wholeheartedly enjoy” the US study abroad experience, with a “resounding” 84% saying they’d recommend it to peers in their home countries – but less than half think it justifies the cost.

The report was compiled by ed tech company Interstride and the founder of Education Rethink. Photo: Interstride

The report surveyed 1,087 students from over 100 countries and over 125 institutions across the world

“There can be that perception at the moment that everything is all doom and gloom, that international education is dying, but that’s wrong because [students] clearly say they love that experience,” Nitin Agrawal, Interstride co-founder and CEO, told The PIE about the report, entitled ‘Is studying in the US worth it?’.

The report surveyed 1,087 students from over 100 countries and over 125 institutions across the world – just over half were graduate students, while 34% were undergraduate and 9% were doctoral or post-doctoral candidates.

“Students really love that US experience, but there can be a little bit of buyer’s remorse – when you ask them the question, ‘do you think there’s value in this education?’… almost 50% say, ‘we don’t think so’, basically,” Agrawal explained.

Almost half of students said the reputation of US colleges was the “driver” of why they wanted to study in the US, while 23% said it was the desire to work in the US.

In terms of its financial value, 49% said they believed the value of a US education justified the cost while 29% said it did not and 22% said they didn’t know, contrasting with the “more enthusiastic stance” that the US experience was overall “recommended”.

“Students really love that US experience, but there can be a little bit of buyer’s remorse”

Due to the fact that tuition fees in the US are among the highest on the planet, especially for international students – coupled with the high cost of living in most major US cities – it can be, as the report puts it, “prohibitively” expensive.

The question regarding the justification of US education was posed from a career standpoint, as Anna Esaki-Smith, author of the report and co-founder of Education Rethink, told The PIE News.

“We asked how they would assess the value of the US experience through a career perspective, for example, was the cost validated by their career?

“That’s why I think this word, value, is such a broad term – we need to get much more specific about this term we are using now,” she said.

Looking from a career perspective, it was also found that just over 20% of international students in the US are “fully utilising” career centres to help them.

Some 7% of the respondents to the report said they didn’t use the career centres available to them at all.

“It was so interesting that so many of [the students surveyed] said that their main resources were their personal connections – their own family and their personal actions,” Esaki-Smith explained.

“They just did everything by themselves… I would be very interested to see what the results of this survey would be if they applied it to other countries,” she continued.

At the same time, the report highlighted the fact that working in the country after graduation is a “priority goal” for students. Specifically, 41% expressed interest in working in the US for at least a “few years post-graduation”, with 31% saying they wanted to stay indefinitely.

“When I graduated from Berkeley, as an international student myself, if I didn’t have a job, what was the point of getting into a top-tier program? There is still work to be done, whether it’s here or the UK or anywhere,” Agrawal commented.

“In terms of career outcomes, it’s very hard to get a job, very hard to get visa work, hard to qualify for the STEM OPT. You can work for one year legally in the US after you graduate, if you’re studying a STEM subject, you could work for three. [That’s] if you’re sitting engineering, but if you’re studying humanities, it’s very difficult to get to do anything longer than a year after you graduate,” Esaki-Smith explained.

“When you look at it through the narrow critical lens of career outcomes, it just doesn’t justify the cost,” she added.

“US institutions really need to step up their game from an immigration standpoint”

The report concludes that, while this is still an enduring issue, the “environment is improving”, and there is a “lot we can do in terms of improving infrastructure”, “engaging more actively with international students to raise awareness of career services”, and “managing expectations” of prospective students on work rights.

“US institutions really need to step up their game from an immigration standpoint, providing better career services, even connecting to employers back home,” Agrawal declared.

“Corporations are already, for example, stepping into this tech space where they’ll provide some sort of coding program you can take for $2,000 for two years and possibly get a $100,000 job, so US institutions have to step up,” he added.

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