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A global pandemic that has caused overseas enrollments to plummet is as good a time as any — even better, some would argue — to rethink American higher education’s relationship with international students. So a just-released report from the American Council on Education, proposing a “new compact” between colleges and international students, is timely.

I want to come clean about a skepticism of reports — in my time as a journalist, I’ve covered many launches only to see the volumes collect dust. But the ACE report identifies many of the key challenges to international-student success and provides an actionable blueprint for change. Here are a couple of aspects that jumped out at me:

It says bluntly that colleges can’t front-end their investment in international students, putting their resources into recruitment. For international students to succeed, they need support, inside the classroom and out, throughout their time on campus. And colleges must do more for their international alumni, providing career assistance and engaging them through global networks. The life-cycle approach should apply to both undergraduates and grad students, the report says. I hear about the imbalance from international students A LOT.

It emphasizes not thinking about international students in isolation, but including them in broader campus action on equity and inclusion. This strikes me as important in many ways, diminishing what has sometimes become an unfortunate rivalry between diversity and internationalization efforts and tapping into complementary expertise. What’s more, excluding international students from the most consequential conversation on campuses today could further marginalize them.

It shifts the focus from what international students bring to American colleges — talent, tuition dollars, cultural diversity — to what colleges must do to effectively serve them. In the current climate, there has been a need to spell out the ways in which international students are assets to American education and society. And certainly many of you reading this newsletter are already zeroed in on international students’ needs. But higher ed more broadly should ask, in the words of one of the report’s co-authors, Chris R. Glass:

“What promises are our institutions making in regards to the safety, the program quality, the affordability, our reputations, and the employment opportunities?”

And are they keeping those promises to international students?

On Friday, I moderated a panel at the ACE/AIEA Internationalization Collaborative on international-student success. A few takeaways:

Jesse Lutabingwa, associate vice chancellor of international education and development at Appalachian State University, said colleges should start with “why — why do we want to engage international students on campus?” As his college’s senior international officer, Lutabingwa said he saw himself as international students’ eyes and ears, able to identify the challenges they face and identity the right campus resources to help solve their problems.

Thuy Thi Nguyen, president of Foothill College, spoke of the “power of stories.” Sometimes actions tell stories, Nguyen said, such as when Foothill filed suit to block a change to student-visa policy. Other times stories are personal. Nguyen, who fled Vietnam with her family, relates to international students by talking about how she considered adopting an Anglicized name after her own name was mispronounced as a teenager.

Colleges can help foster a sense of belonging among international students, said Junchi Zhang, a graduate student at Lehigh University. That can take many forms, said Zhang, who helped Lehigh set up a virtual network for Chinese students studying remotely during the pandemic.

No matter their title, people across campus have a role to play in aiding international students, said Meera Komarraju, provost of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. “International students’ success is everyone’s job,” she said. “It’s vital to our university’s survival.

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International Numbers Linked to Reopening

July 2020 was an important time for colleges, as they made decisions about fall reopening. It also was a critical moment for international students, with the U.S. government instituting, and then rescinding, a rule that would have mandated student-visa holders have at least some in-person instruction.

A new working paper from a pair of post-doctoral researchers suggests that the two may be related, at least for private colleges. Using College Crisis Initiative data, they found that private nonprofit colleges with larger shares of international students were more likely to shift their fall reopening plans to offer face-to-face instruction during the key July time period. Increases in the percentage of nonresident enrollments — IPEDS’ category for international students and other non-U.S. residents — were “significantly and positively related” to a shift towards a reopening plan that incorporated more in-person classes.

Earlier research has looked at how other factors, such as state partisanship, affected college reopening, but the paper is the first to examine how the presence of international students, and their tuition dollars, may have influenced college leaders. It did not find a similar relationship between international enrollments and face-to-face instruction at public colleges.

College leaders may have been “stuck between bad decisions,” one of the authors, Melissa Whatley of North Carolina State University, told me.

Read the study by Whatley and Santiago Castiello-Gutiérrez of the University of Arizona.

New Survey on Agent Use

There’s been a rise in American colleges’ use of international-recruitment agents over the past several years, but a new survey finds that the pandemic has had little impact on colleges’ decision to work with third-party recruiters.

A flash survey conducted by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling and the American International Recruitment Council found that half of respondents used agents. In a similar survey in 2017–18, only a third did.

But only two percent of those polled said they were working with agents because of the pandemic; just five percent were actively exploring agent partnerships as a result.

I found that finding somewhat surprising — if ever there was an impetus for colleges to take the step to work with agents, it would be Covid-19 and the grounding of international-recruitment travel, I figured. I asked Lindsay Addington, NACAC’s director of global engagement, for her take:

“I don’t believe institutions have felt that they could start a new recruitment strategy just because of Covid without doing all of the proper vetting and research that NACAC recommends in finding good fit agents, and then investing the staff and fiscal resources in managing the partnerships that is so critical to their success. “

It’s also clear from the survey that there still is a strong well of philosophical opposition to the idea of paying overseas-student recruiters. More than half of those who don’t use agents cited ethical objections.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note what’s different between now and 2017–18 (besides a worldwide pandemic): The State Department relaxed its prohibition against EducationUSA offices working with agents.

Tell me your thoughts about agents and the ethics of international-student recruitment. I welcome your opinions, feedback, and coverage ideas at You can also find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Around the Globe

The Biden administration will shelve a proposed rule that would have increased reporting requirements for colleges with Confucius Institutes, the Chinese-funded language and cultural centers.

Civil rights and scientific groups are calling on Congress to hold a hearing into the investigations of researchers of Chinese and Asian descent.

An Australian academic who served as an economic advisor to Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained.

Students in Myanmar are on the front lines of demonstrations against the coup.

In Pakistan, students are pushing back against conservative university dress codes.

Fiji has deported the vice chancellor of the University of the South Pacific after he alleged financial irregularities at the institution.

The Indian government has proposed creating nine higher-education hub cities to take advantage of research synergies and encourage collaboration between universities.

Armenia wants to ban politicial figures from serving on university governing boards.

The Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship Program is seeking candidates who want to engage in full-time dissertation research abroad in modern foreign languages and area studies.

Sixteen partners have been awarded grants to further virtual exchange between French and American colleges.

Two Holocaust scholars were ordered to issue a public apology for including “inaccurate information” in an academic study of the roles played by individual Poles in the murder of Jews during World War II.

French politicians and intellectuals blame American higher ed for introducing “woke ideas“ like system racism.

And finally…

Covid has changed so much about how we live our lives. For the French, it may has ushered in the desk lunch. Authorities there will lift long-held prohibitions against workers eating lunch at their desks, in an effort to limit exposure.

I can relate to the sense of erosion of work-life balance — right now, in fact, I’m typing from the kitchen table.

’Til next week — Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.