Key takeaways: American education has bounced back from a pandemic slump, though the new student body is very different. Higher education institutions can adapt by helping this new cohort of students cope with financial and immigration concerns.
The pursuit of an American education is back. Following a slump of international enrollment into American institutions in 2020, the number of new F-1 (student) visas issued quickly recovered and hit a new record high in 2022. However, the 2022 incoming class was strikingly different from before the COVID-19 pandemic, and institutions can benefit from understanding these changes and using them to adapt for the 2023 cycle.
In this inaugural edition of MPOWERed Insights, we’ll discuss the rapid changes to student enrollment since the COVID-19 pandemic, and explore the challenges and opportunities that this poses to institutions and the industry at large.
Visa statistics published by the U.S. Department of State show that since 2019, China is sending only half its pre-COVID number of students to the United States. Other countries like Canada are seeing similar trends, suggesting that in a post-COVID world, institutions could benefit from expanding their international recruitment to a variety of countries. For example, many educational institutions are looking deeper into countries like India to recruit talented students in an effort to diversify their student population.
Efforts to recruit in India are bearing fruit: The number of student visas issued to Indian students has nearly tripled from 2019. This rapid growth means that for the first time in many years, there will be more incoming Indian students than Chinese students at American institutions.
F-1 Visas Granted to Indian and Chinese Students
The growth in Indian student enrollment in the U.S. is stunning, and similar growth has been seen in visa issuances to students from neighboring countries. There were four times as many Nepali and Bangladeshi students starting school in the United States in 2022 as compared with 2019, and 60% more Pakistani students.
F-1 Visas Granted to Select South Asian Students
U.S. enrollment is not booming solely from students across Asia: African enrollment was up by a stunning 50% as compared with 2019, led by Nigeria which grew 60% and Ethiopia which grew 50%, and Ghana, which more than doubled. Additionally, enrollment from Europe was up by 20% and enrollment from Latin America was up by 10%.
F-1 Visas Granted to African Students
Adapting to a Changing Classroom
In this changing environment, institutions that open their recruitment efforts to additional countries can more easily achieve their diversity goals in the process.
There is a well-trodden path of students from China and India studying in the United States. Institutions have opportunities to dig deeper within these countries and develop similar paths from other countries where students may have greater financial need. Since eliminating financial barriers is key to international student enrollment, institutions can benefit in working with students and identifying solutions to their financial and immigration concerns.
Last year, universities routinely reported to us that they were seeing a surge in interest and enrollment from Africa, but that these students were struggling with finances. Many of these students were requesting assistance to fund the entirety of their education – but even after these students had assembled the required funding, they often still struggled to obtain a visa.
To resolve these challenges, institutions will often present prospective students with a long list of scholarships and trusted loan options through their website and other communications. University recruitment officials are increasingly speaking with their counterparts in the financial aid office to understand what financing options are available for students, and often present them clearly on their websites and marketing materials. These resources could include MPOWER Financing, which provides scholarships and no-cosigner loans up to US$100,000 for students from around the world, and informational sites that provide scholarship and loan options, such as internationalscholarships.com, internationalstudentloan.com, eduPASS.org, and elmselect.com.
Solving the Visa Hurdle
After financing, students have to contend with the visa process, which can be intimidating to first-time applicants. At MPOWER, we help guide our students through the visa process by holding webinars featuring immigration attorneys and former visa officers. Through our discussions with consular officials, we’ve learned that they often prefer students to have financial statements and loan documents that are denominated in U.S. dollars, issued by an American firm, and that are under the student’s name (rather than that of a parent or relative). MPOWER loan statements meet all of these criteria, which is why MPOWER students, including those from sub-Saharan Africa, have overwhelmingly been successful obtaining their visas.
Consular officials further recommend that students practice answering common questions out loud, either alone or with a friend or family member, to help improve confidence and composure during the interview. Students should dress professionally for their interviews and arrive on-time with a positive attitude, ready to speak confidently and clearly about their educational goals. When discussing plans after graduation, it is perfectly acceptable for students to say that they plan to participate as permitted in Optional Practical Training (OPT).
To calm nerves, it’s also helpful for students to remember that countless students before them have been successful with the visa interview process. Despite concerns about low approval rates, more students are successfully obtaining visas than ever before.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many challenges and opportunities faced by American institutions seeking to enroll foreign students. A post-pandemic internationalization strategy can thrive when considering a greater student body diversification plan that includes the role of financial institutions and a more active hand in helping students navigate the visa process.
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