US could look overseas to fill demographic student shortfalls

“I think everyone would agree that even without the pandemic, there are a lot of changes, not only in the international student market as we consider it today, but in the international space, geopolitical megatrends that I think really frame this discussion… particularly this question of how do we meet students where they’re at.”

“We feel that a majority of that 10% is going to be international”

International recruitment manager at California State University Long Beach Monica Stamme highlighted domestic demographic shifts that the sector is facing.

“We are aware that the number of high school students who are domestic American students are on a year over year decline,” she said.

“So how we are tackling that is our university has a 2030 plan, and we would like to reach 10% of the total student population to be comprised of international students and out of state American students. But we feel that a majority of that 10% is going to be international.”

Other countries have also worked through demographic declines, speakers said.

“The UK’s already gone through a period of quite sharp demographic decline among 18 year olds, and of course, that has presented many recruitment risks for UK based institutions, not least because the 18 year old population makes up around 50% of all applications to the UK,” explained Matt Criddle, UK university partnerships manager at BridgeU.

One way the UK has sought to mitigate risk was “by developing and maturing their international recruitment plans and strategies”, he said, which is evident from the significant growth in applications from the EU and international countries over the past decade.

However, geopolitical megatrends – as Galina mentioned – could cause risks.

“UK demographics drove UK HE’s need to recruit more international students and the 18 year old population in the UK isn’t expected to recover to 2010 levels, at least until around 2025,” Criddle continued.<

“So UK universities have had to grapple with that. And they’re now also grappling with the after effects and fallout of Brexit. And we believe that this combination of both micro and macro factors will lead to even more competition and an even more competitive marketplace in the decade ahead.”

With more US colleges opting for flexible testing policies, the Common App is “excited about that opportunity”, added data scientist at Common App Preston Magouirk.

“As we look at where spikes and applications are coming from, what we’re seeing is the destination institutions that are enjoying those spikes are those that have been regarded as highly selective,” he said.

Institutions have previously ask for really high SAT and ACT scores, which “could be seen as real barriers to entry”, he added.

A recent report by BridgeU found that top US institutions have seen a rise in applications but lesser-known institutions are facing more competitive international market.

“It does not appear to be just going test optional in and of itself that is a driver”

“I think it’s really important to note that it does not appear to be just going test optional in and of itself that is a driver,” Magouirk said.

“There’s an interesting relationship to be explored between several of these other factors – selectivity, prestige type of institution – that make those institutions more likely to gain application volume.”

Another recent piece of BridgeU research identified specific cities that tell a different story to the “prevailing narrative of decline” in US international enrolments.

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