The development of international strategies in US higher education

The American Council on Education (ACE) recently released a new report – the third in ten years – that assesses the current state of internationalisation at American higher education institutions, examines progress and trends over time, and identifies future priorities.

According to ACE, the report Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2012 Edition is the only comprehensive source of data on internationalisation in US higher education institutions from all sectors and includes two- and four-year, public and private, degree-granting institutions. Survey data from US institutions were collected in 2001, 2006, and most recently in 2011, when ACE surveyed 3,357 accredited, degree-granting institutions.

The survey assessed many aspects of campus internationalisation, including:

  • Articulated institutional commitment
  • Administrative structure and staffing
  • Curriculum, co-curriculum and learning outcomes
  • Faculty policies and practices
  • Student mobility
  • Collaboration and partnerships

Institutions perceive that internationalsation has accelerated in recent years and has received senior-level support.

Survey highlights include:

  • In 2011, 93 percent of doctoral institutions, 84 percent of master’s institutions, 78 percent of baccalaureate institutions, and approximately 50 percent of associate institutions and special focus institutions perceived that internationalisation has accelerated on their campuses in the past three years.
  • Among all potential catalysts for spurring internationalisation, the President/CEO is the most common catalyst at institutions reporting an accelerated focus on internationalisation (29 percent) in recent years.
  • At a majority of institutions reporting an accelerated focus on internationalisation since 2008, funding for these efforts has either increased (47 percent) or held steady (27 percent).
  • Internationalising the curriculum at the home campus; strategic partnerships with overseas institutions, governments, and corporations; and expanding international student recruitment and staff have received the most attention and resources in recent years.

ICEF Monitor has pulled out a selection of the findings as they relate to student mobility, international student recruitment, and ESL programmes, which we present below.

Student mobility continues as a focus, but certain curricular efforts slow

According to ACE, student mobility refers both to the outward flow of domestic students to other countries to engage in education-abroad experiences and the inward flow of international students to study on US campuses.

Attention to student mobility has remained strong over the years, and more institutions are devoting financial resources to study abroad programmes and international student recruitment. Formalised partnerships, joint degrees, and branch campus ventures are now a part of internationalisation efforts for many institutions.

Despite substantial, widespread budget constraints, close to half (47 percent) of institutions that reported an accelerated focus on internationalisation in recent years have seen an increase in funding to support these efforts.

While this progress is encouraging, the survey data also highlight areas where improvement is still needed, a number of which relate directly to or have an impact on student learning. Although many institutions indicated that the curriculum has been a particular focus of internationalisation efforts in recent years, overall this is not reflected in the general education requirements that apply to all students.

Additional key student mobility findings include:

  • Overall, 54 percent of institutions administer their own undergraduate study abroad programmes. Nearly all (98 percent) doctoral institutions operate such programmes, along with three-quarters or more of master’s and baccalaureate institutions (85 percent and 75 percent, respectively), 44 percent of associate institutions, and 13 percent of special focus institutions.
  • More institutions are providing institutional scholarships for students to use toward education abroad and are funding faculty to take students abroad.
  • A majority (more than 60 percent) of doctoral, master’s, and baccalaureate institutions provided scholarships or other financial aid for international undergraduate students in 2011. There were notable increases in each of these sectors between 2001 and 2006, and again between 2006 and 2011. At 16 percent and 21 percent, respectively, associate and special focus institutions were substantially less likely than other institutions to offer such funding in 2011.
  • Data from 2011 showed an increase across all sectors in the percentage of institutions requiring undergraduates to take courses that feature global trends and issues. However, the percentage of institutions that require undergraduates to take courses that primarily feature perspectives, issues, or events from countries or areas outside the U.S. decreased across all sectors.
  • The percentage of institutions with an undergraduate foreign language requirement for graduation has declined steadily over time across all sectors, from 53 percent in 2001 to only 37 percent in 2011.

International student recruitment

In 2011, 48 percent of doctoral institutions, 39 percent of master’s institutions, and 41 percent of baccalaureate institutions had a strategic international student recruitment plan that included specific enrolment targets, while 13 percent of associate institutions and 21 percent of special focus institutions reported having such plans.

Of the institutions that have such a plan in place and also have geographic targets, Asia is a primary regional focus.

The percentage of doctoral, master’s, and baccalaureate institutions that fund travel for staff to recruit international undergraduate students increased between 2001 and 2006 and continued to increase over the past five years. Though associate institutions saw an increase between 2001 and 2006, there was a decrease of 1 percentage point reported in 2011.

Overall, 31 percent of institutions fund such travel, ranging from 13 percent of special focus institutions to 78 percent of doctoral institutions.

Some institutions have also hired overseas student recruiters to fill this role:

Approximately one in four doctoral institutions and master’s institutions use recruiters (24 percent and 27 percent, respectively), along with 16 percent of baccalaureate institutions, 4 percent of associate institutions, and 4 percent of special focus institutions.

ESL programmes

The percentage of institutions with ESL programmes increased in each sector except associate institutions, which saw a pronounced decrease (79 percent to 61 percent) in this area. Despite this decrease, the percentage of associate institutions with ESL programmes is still greater than that of the baccalaureate and master’s sectors. 

The percentage of all institutions with international alumni services and/or chapters declined from 13 percent in 2006 to 9 percent in 2011.

Opportunities for international and domestic student interaction – such as buddy programmes or language partner programmes – are most prevalent at doctoral institutions. Associate institutions, which are least likely to offer these programmes, saw continued declines in this area between 2006 and 2011.

More than one-half (57 percent) of doctoral institutions and approximately one-third of master’s (33 percent) and baccalaureate institutions (30 percent) offer residence halls with special programmes designed to facilitate the integration of US and international students.

Education abroad

Compared with 2006, a larger percentage of institutions in all sectors are providing institutional scholarships for student education abroad. Nine in 10 doctoral institutions have such funding available, compared with approximately two thirds of master’s and baccalaureate institutions (61 percent and 63 percent, respectively) and one-quarter of associate and special focus institutions (24 percent and 26 percent, respectively).


The percentage of institutions funding faculty to take students abroad has also increased in each sector.

Despite the promising funding data, however, 42 percent of institutions reported no study abroad activity among their 2011 graduates, and 36 percent reported that less than 5 percent studied abroad.

At doctoral institutions specifically, the results were more encouraging, with 34 percent of institutions reporting that at least 20 percent of their 2011 graduates studied abroad. Only 21 percent of doctoral institutions reached the same threshold in the 2006 survey.

Overall, 54 percent of institutions administer their own undergraduate study abroad programmes. (As defined in the survey, “administer” means the institution has control over and runs the daily operation of the programme.) Nearly all (98 percent) doctoral institutions operate such programmes, along with three-quarters or more of master’s and baccalaureate institutions (85 percent and 75 percent, respectively), 44 percent of associate institutions, and 13 percent of special focus institutions.

Between 2006 and 2011, the percentage of doctoral, master’s, and baccalaureate institutions that administer service abroad opportunities for students increased notably (by at least 13 percentage points in each sector).

More support needed for international students pre- and post-arrival

While efforts to recruit international students are on the rise, the data do not show a commensurate increase in support services for these students, or activities that facilitate interaction and mutual learning with American peers.

US institutions must ensure that once international students have arrived on campus, they are prepared to succeed academically and thrive culturally. This relationship begins prior to their arrival on campus and has the potential to last well beyond actual time spent at the institution.

Intentional efforts to support international students and integrate these students into a campus, in order to facilitate shared learning with domestic peers, can have powerful effects on students who are experiencing the American campus and culture for the first time.

These findings echo those from a recent study from the National Communication Association’s Journal of International and Intercultural Communication. The study revealed that international students at US college campuses are not very satisfied with their friendships with Americans on average (but their satisfaction level varies by US host region and the student’s home region).

Looking ahead

The report concludes that while it is encouraging to see increases in the percentage of institutions funding student mobility and related activities, it is important that the goals of sending more students abroad and recruiting more international students to US colleges and universities are seen as a means to achieving the broader learning-focused goals of internationalisation, rather than as ends in themselves.

This is particularly crucial considering the relatively small number of students who have the opportunity to participate in exchange experiences. Institutions should think carefully about how students’ education abroad experiences are incorporated into the curriculum, about whether there are appropriate support structures in place to help international students transition to and succeed on US campuses, and about the types of opportunities the institution offers for domestic and international students to interact in meaningful ways.

By creating strategic programmes and policies that focus on what students are learning from their international experiences and interactions with peers from other countries, institutions can maximise the impact of the resources they are devoting to student mobility and ensure that student learning, rather than such benchmarks as the quantity of international experiences, remains the focus of such activities.

To read the full report, click here.

Source: ACE

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