Office of Planning and Budgeting

Divergent Views on International Student Retention Among Administrators, Students

In an effort to boost international student retention, a new survey by the NAFSA: Association of International Educators seeks to understand why international students drop out or transfer before earning a degree. The survey asked 517 international undergraduate students, of which 110 had either transferred or were planning to transfer, about their college experience and their reasons for changing schools.  In a parallel survey, about 500 international education professionals were asked why they thought international students transferred.

The students who participated in the study cited financial factors as the top reasons for their dissatisfaction:

  • Limited access to jobs and internships (37 percent)
  • Affordability (36 percent)
  • Dearth of scholarship opportunities (34 percent)
  • Meal plans (26 percent)
  • Quality of housing (17 percent)

Interestingly, the factors that educators believe are hurting international student retention are quite different. Although nearly two-thirds of international education professionals named “financial problems” as a primary cause of attrition, the other top reasons they listed focused more on academic preparedness and fit:

  • Finding a “better fit” institution (67 percent)
  • Financial problems (64 percent)
  • Academic difficulties (62 percent)
  • Inadequate English language skills (40 percent)
  • Dissatisfaction with location (34 percent)

The findings suggest that there is a disconnect between the expectations of international undergraduates and those of college administrators. Inside Higher Ed quotes Rahul Choudaha, the report’s principal investigator, as saying, “Students may be underestimating the academic preparation expected to be on a campus and they are overestimating the availability of jobs, availability of scholarships, availability of financial aid and so on.” College recruiters, thus, should help manage international students’ expectations by recognizing and being upfront about the availability of job and scholarship opportunities on their campus. In addition, as international students may be underestimating the level of academic and language preparedness necessary to succeed at American universities, special tutoring and academic advising services may be required to help them succeed and stay. Together, these approaches could help boost retention and clarify expectations, so both administrators and students have a better experience.

To read the NAFSA findings, click here. Or, check out the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed articles on the issue.

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