Higher ed execs weigh in on the state of international education

Tracy Courtemanche
Tracy Courtemanche
is the Senior Director, Global Marketing - Education at Flywire.

With international students eager to study in countries around the world, higher education institutions are hitting their stride with programs enacted during the pandemic that are still proving impactful in today’s post-COVID world.

To explore this further, leaders from four North American institutions shared their successes with attracting and accommodating the unique needs of international students during a recent panel discussion at the NAFSA 2022 Annual Conference in Denver. We brought the group together to hear their views on the state of international education post-COVID, as well as perennial issues like education affordability.

Our “Passport to Higher Education” panelists included:

  • Arizona State University (ASU) – Daniel K. Hoyle, MA, Senior Director, International Student & Scholar Experience
  • Humber College – Andrew Ness, MBA, Dean, International
  • New York University (NYU) – Helen Leonard, MA, Associate Director
  • Northeastern University – Roopa Rawjee, EdD, Assistant VP, Office of Global Services

While Flywire was not part of the panel, our research was used as a discussion prompt.

Their discussion further validated what we heard from international students in an extensive survey Flywire conducted in the wake of COVID. For that report, we surveyed more than 1,000 higher education students across seven countries around the world — Australia, Canada, China, India, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The themes of that research remain relevant today – demand for international education is strong and students are eager to get back on campus, but they’re also concerned about health safety, student visas, the cost of education, and how to pay for it.

Higher ed execs weighs in on the state of international education

Three big takeaways from the panel session follow:

1. Demand for international education remains strong and continues to rise.

NYU expects to have 20,000 international students for the September 2022 semester. ASU is expecting more than 13,000, Humber College more than 6,500 and Northeastern is tracking to at least 5,000. The overwhelming majority of these students want to be on campus. While the hybrid programs of the last two years were the right solution for the situation, international students studying remotely during this period lost a lot of the “cultural” experiences that come with global travel and on-campus interaction. In response, the schools and their staff have been extending themselves to get students back on campus to offer as close to a “normal” international experience as possible while ensuring all essential safety protocols, and vaccination requirements/recommendations are being followed. This includes helping with immigration requirements, student visas and cross-border payments as well as dedicating staff to get international students settled on campus more quickly.

Humber College had 25% of its student population back in person by January 2022 and is at 57% for Summer 2022. The school is also helping students with their Canadian immigration requirements.

At ASU, the biggest international growth has been with its graduate programs. The school has also seen some interesting shifts in its source markets since COVID, particularly with students from India. Like all of the schools on the panel, China had been the largest country of origin for ASU international students for many years. India, over the last two years, has now taken the lead.

In addition to seeing similar country origin shifts, student deferral rates are lower than the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters, but are still a reality. Some contributing factors include visa challenges, safety concerns, and the evolving lockdown situations in China.

2. Agents remain critical to international student recruitment, but schools are adapting their approach.

Institutions all over the world depend on agents for international student recruiting, but some of the panelists’ schools have put full-time resources in key markets and are re-focusing agents on specific countries and regions.

For instance, approximately 50% of Humber College’s international students come from agents, but they tend to work in specific markets. Humber has dedicated local staff in Brazil, Vietnam and other key source markets, and ASU has taken the same approach in China.

The schools also talked about working with “agent aggregators” and “super agents” like Kaplan, which help recruit, vet, and manage all of their agent relationships. But even in these cases, schools are limiting these firms’ efforts to specific countries.

3. International payments remain a big point of concern for both students and schools

All of the panelists - and students alike - have seen the stress and anxiety caused by rising tuition costs, complex payment systems, and delayed international payments. That was true before COVID and is even worse now.

All four panelists reported a significant increase in requests for payment plans to help make education costs more manageable for students and families. This proved to be a great mechanism that students and their families took full advantage of – to not only help address affordability, but also potential delays in receiving funds from home. For instance, some international banks proved more difficult to work with during the pandemic so in certain incidences, it was a bit more challenging to send money from certain countries. Flexible payment plans helped bridge the gap and allowed students to enroll while waiting for those funds to be released.

The schools and panelists also talked about taking a proactive approach to head off payment problems before they happen. This includes proactive online communication about payment options, discussing the best payment methods during orientation, setting up webinars for international students, and putting them in touch with the Financial Services office when appropriate.

All the panelists agreed that they do not want to be in the business of managing student payments. And each of the schools represented has partnered with Flywire to streamline their payment process. Flywire provides a modern, self-service payment experience for students and families with end-to-end transparency, real-time alerts and around-the-clock multilingual support to help answer questions and navigate the process to ensure payments get to where they’re supposed to as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If you are interested in the Flywire Report, you can download it here:
Passport to Higher Education: A Global Payments Study

For more information on the NAFSA event, visit https://www.nafsa.org/conferences/nafsa-2022