International Students in the United States: What Every Higher Education Professional Should Know

by Iyad Uakoub

Iyad Uakoub and his students

As a higher education and career services professional, coming from an international background, I have always related to issues on diversity and social justice on a professional and personal level. After finishing my master’s at Purdue University—#1 in the United States for international students majoring in STEM—and working with thousands of international students and scholars at International Center, Purdue University and Stanford University, it became apparent to me that the challenges international students face have roots in systematic social inequity.  In this blog, I will be taking a look at the issue of social justice for international students in the United States and the role of student services professionals in promoting equity within this community.

Why International Students?

More than a million international students are currently studying in the United States, a 9 percent increase over 2014. Enrollment trends show all time high with 4.8 percent of total student enrollment in 2015. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and business majors attract most international students. Students from China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia represent 58 percent of the total enrollment of international students in the United States.

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In 2014-15 alone, international students contributed $30.5 billion dollars to the U.S economy and supported 373,381 jobs. NASFA reported, for every 7seven international students enrolled, three U.S. jobs are created or supported by spending occurring in the following sectors: higher education, accommodation, dining, retail, transportation, telecommunications, and health insurance. Although one could argue that international students receive U.S. money to fund their educations, IIE’s Open Door reports that only 21 percent of funding comes though U.S. scholarships, assistantships, or fellowships. The majority of funding comes through personal, family, foreign government, or international organizations.

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Although the number of international students in the United States is increasing, the bigger picture tells a different story. According to OECD, international students comprise of 4 percent only of total enrollment in the United States when compared to countries like the UK (18 percent) and Australia (19 percent).

Economic values and opportunities are not the most important thing international students bring to the United States: They bring global perspectives and innovative approaches along with diversity and cultural exposure. No wonder these students are actively sought after by American universities. However, they face four major challenges during their college career:

  1. Job market: International students struggle during and after earning their degrees to find major-related internships and jobs. Most of them are funded by their families. They are pressured to secure employment in the United States to compensate for the investment in education and to gain social capital upon their return to their home countries.
  2. New academic environment: New topics, professors, and teaching methods— these are challenges that apply to all students, domestic and international, and they exert a higher effect on those who have never experienced the U.S. educational system.
  3. Different country: International students are challenged to adapt to barriers that naturally arise in a new country, such as culture, weather, food, and language. The latter in particular discourages the brightest international students from active class and team participation as they expect negative social outcomes and they fall into evaluation apprehension social stigma.
  4. Neo-racism: In her research, Professor Jennie J. Lee of the University of Arizona, shows that international students from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East struggle with covert and overt forms of neo-racism. They deal with peer, faculty, administrators’, and employers’ stereotypes and negative assumptions and are subject to inappropriate remarks on accents, discrimination and verbal insults, or even physical assaults.

Unfortunately, the majority of neo-racism-related events against international students are not reported. I argue that this is because international students either don’t know whom to talk to, or they don’t believe reporting on discrimination incidents is actually worth the trouble. Lee argues that awareness and trust are lacking between international students and student affairs professionals.

There is an absence sense of urgency when it comes to empowering international students in higher education. It is in the heart of our job to go beyond advising and programming, we must to step up and take action to stop these moral and social crises. Consequently, I recommend three integrated solutions:

  • First, painting international students with the same social brush and one-size-fits-all strategy is something we have to be cognizant of. If we are to tailor our services to international students’ microcommunities, we must be mindful of how that will impact their college careers.
  • Second, Student Services should fully embrace their role of not only being the primary resource of international students’ co-curricular opportunities, but also be active promoters of the benefits of these opportunities throughout students’ college journey.
  • Last, international students’ programs shouldn’t be a stand-alone department or a center; rather, it should be a university-wide ecosystem, where faculty, staff, and students are actively engaged in cross-cultural communications initiatives that create a welcoming and responsive environment to the needs of the international students.

Since higher education is going through transformational change, I see our strategic role within this change is to embark upon a new path of boosting engagement and building collaborative communities so our students can flourish, thrive and succeed.

Where to start? Here are some related resources:

  1. Wall Street Journal – History of International Students in America
  2. Association of International Educators (NAFSA)
  3. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)
  4. The Institute of International Education (IIE)
  5. National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
  6. Power Ties: The International Student’s Guide to Finding a Job in the United States
  7. International Student Experiences of Neo-Racism and Discrimination

iyad uakoub
Iyad Uakoub, M.S., B.Eng., Manager of Branding & Digital Communities/User Experience, BEAM, Stanford Career Education, Stanford University
Twitter: @iyadsy
LinkedIn:www.linkedin.com/in/iyadyacoub

3 thoughts on “International Students in the United States: What Every Higher Education Professional Should Know

  1. Great article! As a career consulting professional who matriculated the final year of high school through successful completion of a PhD as an international student, now a naturalized US Citizen, I totally concur with you and want to take time to commend you on the research you did to deliver this data rich article. A definite ‘must read/must share’ article.

  2. Pingback: International students in the united states_ what every higher education professional should know _ the nace blog education level united states

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