A Sunny Day in February: An Optimist’s View of International Student Enrollment in the USA

Jeff Foot | 2-8-2018

“It’s February!” is not an uttered phrase known to evoke smiles or cheer for most people living in the Northern hemisphere. However, the optimist among us will say that it’s the shortest month and the days are longer than in January!

In the same vein, there are numerous reports circulating in the international educators’ news feed that talk about the challenging environment we currently face in American based international education. For example, ICEF Monitor Weekly projects modest growth until 2027 and a recent NPR Morning Edition report by Stan Jastrzebski, featuring Indiana University’s John Wilkerson, communicates real difficulties faced by international admissions offices in the United States given the current domestic political environment that is unwelcoming on many levels.

I, too, share the concern but choose to frame my long-term perspective to align more closely with the “longer sunny days in February” perspective. I see four reasons to be optimistic.

First, the international education community, as well as numerous higher education associations, are now organizing campaigns and initiatives to change public perception and affect real improvements for international students among other globally mobile populations.

Second, modest growth among globally mobile populations is still growth. In fact, ICEF published a report in July 2017 highlighting overall college-age population growth until the year 2100 fueled largely by gains in Africa.

Third, the World Bank forecasts real GDP average growth of just under 4% to 2020. While GDP is not the best predictor of prosperity, it does represent the capacity of regions and countries to produce and, therefore, generate global mobility.

Fourth, and please forgive my neo-liberalist assertion, but competition for international students by schools can drive improvement for international students on individual campuses. Allow me to elaborate. As those of us who are responsible for internationalization know, we must deftly yet tirelessly maneuver on campus to constantly challenge the status quo. Our work is driven by building support systems and programs; introducing or promoting intercultural skill set development for administrators, faculty, staff and other students; questioning campus policies not designed to serve international students (break housing fees and transportation solutions for example); building a community where none existed before; and so on. However, when the uninitiated—and possibly resistant—group of said administrators see the connection between lower enrollments and potential improvements they can control, it highlights the critical work needed to attract a more globally mobile student than in years past.

I foresee campuses being more open to challenge their current thinking and improve the internationalization of their campuses through competition with other schools rather than resting on laurels knowing little work was needed to receive high application rates and full residence halls.

So, my friends and fellow international educators, I maintain there are reasons why you should look out your window and realize that, indeed, “It’s February” but the snow will melt and there will be longer, sunnier days ahead.


Author: Jeff Foot

Jeff Foot is the Executive Director at LewerMark and is responsible for developing new client relationships. He joined LewerMark after spending 17 years at Northwest Missouri State University where he served as Director of Admissions and International Affairs. While at the university he also served as International Affairs Director and Data Specialist for the Intercultural International Center. He has a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Missouri, a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from NMSU and a Bachelor of Arts Sociology from the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Foot also led the English as a Second Language Program at Byuk Sung College in South Korea from 1998 to 2000.