The IIE Spring 2022 Snapshot on International Educational Exchange gave fresh insight on in-person student mobility to and from the US, including support to current prospective international students affected by Covid-19 and the Ukraine crisis.
The number of institutions recording an increase in applications was a marked increase from previous years. In 2020/21, 22% said they’d received more applications, with 52% indicating fewer applications.
The survey shows that US institutions are recovering from the drop in international applications during Covid-19. However, 12% of respondents still said they’d received fewer application in 2022/23.
“US colleges and universities remain committed to increasing the number of international students, primarily those on campus,” the paper noted.
Increased applications for the 2022/23 academic year were particularly prevalent among Master’s Colleges and Universities (76%), Doctoral Universities (73%), community colleges (68%), and liberal arts colleges (51%), it added.
The report also found that 89% of the 559 institutions responding to the survey had most of their international students physically present on campus.
More than half indicated all their international students were on campus. This was a significant jump on last year, when only 8% of institutions indicated that all of their international students were on campus.
The report found that 96% of institutions are offering in-person study to future international students, with options for distance learning only reserved for those who cannot be on campus due to travel and visa restrictions as a result of Covid-19.
When asked if student enrolment figures are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, Mirka Martel, head of research, evaluation and learning at IIE and co-author of the report, said that there was no indication of that happening this academic year. However, she is cautiously optimistic.
“Of course everybody’s goal is that we rebound international student mobility to numbers before the pandemic, but I do think there are a number of factors that will be at play here that we will need to consider,” she said.
Organisations have warned that the US remains behind competitors when it comes to post-study work opportunities and that “dual intent”, whereby during visa applications students have to prove they will depart the US after their studies, remains an issue.
The report, which is the fourth part of the Snapshot Survey Series, also sought to provide insight into how US colleges and universities have responded to the crisis in Ukraine and how they have supported both Ukrainian and Russian international students.
“As international student programs find their footing with pandemic protocols and student health and safety, the crisis in Ukraine in February 2022 reminded institutions that support to international students requires continued adaptability and flexibility,” the report noted.
“The crisis in Ukraine reminded institutions that support to international students requires continued adaptability and flexibility”
Of those surveyed, 248 institutions reported hosting international students from Ukraine during spring 2022 with 307 US institutions hosting Russian international students.
The large majority – 87% of institutions – said that they supported Ukrainian students through written correspondence, while 81% offered mental health counselling to affected students.
Other forms of support for Ukrainian students saw 59% of institutions distributing emergency student funding while 29% provided housing.
For Russian international students at 307 institutions, 79% offered written correspondence, and 71% provided mental health counselling.
“US colleges and universities stand behind their international students and provide the necessary support in these challenging times,” Martel added.
Meanwhile, 43% of institutions reported having university partnerships with Russia. Over half of these institutions (56%) have suspended their university partnership amid the crisis.
US institutions continue to recruit students from both Ukraine and Russia, with most (54%) giving extra concessions such as extending enrolment for prospective Ukrainian students due to potential visa delays.
With a Ukraine diaspora of over one million in the US, many institutions importantly noted that the crisis can have an impact on those not directly affected or those with Ukrainian relatives and therefore 54% of institutions noted that they had written communication with all students, faculty, and staff regarding the Ukraine crisis.
As for more general support given to the entire international student body, most institutions (89%) reported communication with international students about their health and well-being has continued while 61% said the same about communication surrounding mental health.
In terms of recruitment and outreach tools, the report found that the biggest return on recruitment for institutions was through agents. However, in a webinar launching the report, Martel highlighted the importance of acknowledging that not all institutions can afford to do so.
Online recruitment events, current international students, and international partnerships were also reported as the recruitment tools “with the highest utility”, by respondents.
“Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, US colleges and universities have diversified their outreach and recruitment, combining traditional and new strategies that have proven useful in converting prospective international students to enrolled students on their campuses,” the report noted.
“What is interesting to see is the combination of virtual and in-person activities moving forward.”