International Enrollment in the United States will experience a major decline due to COVID 19

International student group shot

By Dean Hoke, Managing Partner Edu Alliance Group, North America June 29, 2020.

The year 2020 has been an unprecedented time worldwide, and we are in the middle of a perfect storm. The COVID 19 pandemic has resulted in a devastating loss of life and damage to all economies. Higher education has not been spared.

Edu Alliance on June 6-12 surveyed university President’s and senior cabinet-level officers in which we asked the question, Do you expect at your university this fall a decline in enrolled international students? We received sixty-one (21.8%) responses representing eight countries and over 1.25 million students.

The charts below are the survey results from US institutions broken down between public and private.

Public decline

Private decline

Other organizations have been studying the potential decline in international students as well. Quacquarelli Symonds, better know as QS, a highly respected worldwide ranking service, published in June 2020, a worldwide study titled “How COVID 19 is Impacting Prospective International Students Across the Globe”. They received more than 19,000 responses from students since February 2020, asking how the coronavirus affected their plans to study abroad. Below are the responses to three key questions.

Has the coronavirus affected your plans to study abroad

Which of these best describes how the coronavirus has changed your plans to study abroad

How interested would you be in studying your degree online because of the coronavirus

International student numbers will decline significantly in US Universities in Fall 2020 – due to the pandemic related to travel, safety, and visa restrictions as well as changes in US immigration policies pertaining to student visas. It is our view it will take at least 4-5 years before international student enrollment will return to Fall 2019 levels no matter who is the President of the United States. Realistically we should expect a quicker rate of closures and consolidations in the private and public sectors. Even online courses and degree expansion cannot prevent it.

International students come because the US education brand is the gold standard in terms of quality and reputation. The world rankings groups such as QS show 151 of the top 1,000 universities are located in the United States. The quality of education, its research capacity, and job opportunities for its graduates are highly desired by students, parents, and employers. Of the 5.3 million international students worldwide, 860,000 are attending on US soil. There are also thousands of other students who attend US international branch campus (IBC) schools.

NAFSA (The Association of International Educators) estimates US schools spent more than $600 million in assisting international students and staff since March 2020 and will lose $3 billion from reduced foreign enrollment in the fall.

Educators try planning for every contingency, but I doubt any planning book exists on how to proceed when a pandemic hits.  As a friend of mine who has worked with the higher education community for over 50 years and is a university trustee for two institutions stated in a virtual conference, “the only thing you can do at the moment is to seek shelter and when the storm is over, dig out, and rebuild.”

US higher education institutions are putting maximum efforts to retain the international students who are in residing in the US. NAFSA states in its Financial Impact Survey Report highlighted that US institutions had lost nearly $1 billion due to reduced or canceled study abroad programs. They additionally spent approximately $638 million in aid on students and staff who remained on campus after classes moved online, and expects a $3 billion loss due to declining enrollment in the fall.  All conventional methods, including additional enhanced online courses, are being offered, but it will take some truly out of the box thinking.

Here is one example. The Pie News in a June 26 story titled “Universities consider charter flights for international students”  the University of Bolton located in the UK has made plans to fly in students from India, China, and before the new semester starts in September. Similar ideas have been made or are being considered by universities in Northern Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

The use of chartered flight is one example, and it has the support of their respective governments, but private flights may not be feasible for your institution. Different thinking is now required, and higher education needs to be willing to take calculated risks.

What “Out of the Box” concepts is your university considering? Edu Alliance and your colleagues would like to hear your ideas.


cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square1.jpgEdu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Bloomington, Indiana USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university / college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions a wide range of consulting services. If you are an organization that wants to know more how Edu-Alliance can best serve you, please contact us at info@edualliancegroup.com 

Small rural Colleges and Universities are they viable?

Allen MeadorsBy Allen C. Meadors, Chancellor and Professor Emeritus The University of North Carolina-Pembroke May 4, 2020. The United States has over 5,000 Colleges and Universities ranging from less than a hundred students to over 50,000 students. All institutions of higher education have been re-evaluating their mission and viability, but none more than the 500 or so smaller institutions spread throughout rural America. These institutions are often the lifeblood of their community (and often their region). They often represent one of the most substantial ties to the community/region’s history and culture. They are often the economic engine (jobs, purchases, etc.) that keeps the community and the region alive.

In the last 40 years, many have seen their enrollment decrease, often to the extent that they have had to merge with other higher education entities or close their doors. Like many businesses in America, they cannot continue to be successful in doing things as they always have. So, are small rural Colleges and Universities viable?

There was a comic strip in the 1940-1970’s by Walt Kelly, Jr called Pogo. One of Pogo’s famous quotes was, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Rural institutions often underrate themselves. One University with about 2,000 students, said we can’t grow because the large State University is only 45 miles away and that is where everyone wants to go. As we worked with them, we convinced them that they offered something that the much larger campus couldn’t.  They offer a more personal touch campus where you obtain an excellent education and “only” 45 miles from a university of over 40,000. Once they accepted this vision and market it to potential students, they were able to double their enrollment in four years.

Many rural campuses (especially public institutions) often see themselves as commuter campuses. It is a limiting vision to have. Winston

Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Bringing residence students to your campus not only provides growth opportunities but adds diversity that will enrich the commuter student’s educational experience. It will also be good for the local community. Institutions in metropolitan areas often complain that their students do not engage in on-campus opportunities because the local area offers so much distraction (professional sports, major entertaining events, major events brought to the community by industry). The rural institution has the opportunity to be the “destination” not only for their students but for the local community as well.

We always encourage rural campuses to form an active “Town/Gown” committee and support it vigorously. One complaint we often hear is that our community isn’t supportive of our students. At one institution, we had identified several rural institutions that had very positive “Town/Gown” images. We put together bus tours to these communities and had the College’s town businesspeople visit with the town and College individuals in those communities. They came back excited about the business opportunities that a small “College” town could provide that worked for both the academic institution and the town. Over just five years, remarkable changes occurred in the community. Everyone was better off.

We often hear, we are too far away from a major city or we’re not located in a desirable resort area. Again, those are just mental blocks. Your first job is to re­ educate your faculty and staff to the positive that your institution has to offer. One campus with only under 3,000 students (they had lost enrollment over the past ten years) felt exactly that way. We had a forum to discuss the things we did have to offer and why they were a great fit for some students. The campus started to focus on campus life and the fact that it was only 2-3 hours away from two large metro areas, the ocean and beautiful beaches and mountains. Today, students have grown up to not see 2-3 hours as that big of issues. Often it takes nearly that long to drive from one side of a metro area to the other.

Once the focus moved from what they weren’t to what they had to offer, they were able to grow to nearly 8,000 students. The community now has numerous student apartments, restaurants, and a developing classy downtown area. It is moving to be a true “College” town.

Another opportunity that is often overlooked is International students. Small institutions often think that international students wouldn’t want to attend a small rural institution. I am sure that is true for some international students, but many want a campus that will offer them a safe haven during their academic years away from home. One institution located in the lower mid-west was able to increase its international enrollment from less than 250 to nearly 1,000 in three years. The international students were introduced to a University in a small community where they got a lot of individual attention, and the US students got an introduction to students from all over the world. A significant enhancement to their classroom experience.

Another key  factor that is especially critical for small rural institutions relates to a quote from one of Jim Collins’s books, “Good to Great.” It is essential that you “Get the right people on the bus and get the right people in the right seats and get the wrong people off the bus.” It is a positive for all institutions, but small institutions do not have the luxury of often having multiple individuals in various departments/units. Institution leadership often worry about the “get the wrong people off the bus,” and the negative push back from the local community, if these are local individuals. Yes, this will be necessary sometime, but the focus needs to be on “get the right people in the right seats”! Most people want to do a good job, but if we have them in a position that does not fit their skill set, then we have a lose-lose situation. We need to take the time to evaluate an individual’s skill set. If some aren’t good with people, don’t put them or keep them in a position that requires that above other skills. They might do well in a purchasing position that is more research-oriented than handling students’ complaints in the business office.

Another approach recommended by Jim Collins is when addressing a problem “shift the decision from a “what” question (‘what should we do”) into a “who” decision(‘who would be the right person to take responsibility for this”). You will be amazed at how often weak employees in one position shine once they are in an environment where their skill set is a plus.

The Coronavirus (COVID 19) have brought new challenges and opportunities to higher education.  Financially weak institutions may not be able to sustain their financial viability before full recovery occurs.  However, small rural institutions may be able to market their remoteness and small enrollment as safer and more responsive than their larger sister institutions.

So, are small rural Colleges and Universities viable? Absolutely, but each has its history, culture, and opportunities. It is so important to know that no one approach fits all institutions. With small rural institutions, its history and its regional culture play a critical role in not only what you do but how you do it.


Dr. Allen Meadors is an American higher education professor and administrator. He has worked in international higher education as President/CEO of St. John International University in Torino, Italy and served as Executive Director for Higher Education for the Ministry of Higher Education in the United Arab Emirates. He is currently serving as an Associate Editor for the journals “Frontiers in Public Health” and “Frontiers in Education”.

His previous US career included serving as President/Chancellor of three US state universities including Penn State Altoona (February 1994 to June 1999); University of North Carolina-Pembroke (July 1999 to June 2009); and University of Central Arkansas (July 2009 to September 2011).  Prior positions held include Dean of Health, Social and Public Services, Eastern Washington University; Dean of Public Health, University of Oklahoma, Executive Director of the Northwest Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute; and an executive at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas.

Allen currently serves on the Edu Alliance Advisory Council and is Associate Editor of Frontiers in Public Health