Driving International Growth and Innovation of Professional, Online, and Continuing Education

international students mobility trends three waves

How can professional, continuing, and online education drive the growth and innovation agenda to attract international students? This is the focus of my recent article published in UPCEA Unbound. I also convened and moderated a panel discussion on this theme at 2019 UPCEA Annual Conference in Seattle with following institutional leaders:

  • Nelson Baker, Dean, Professional Education, Georgia Tech
  • Brian Cook, Associate Vice President, University Extension, Cal State East Bay
  • James Gazzard, Director, University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education
  • Kelly Otter, Dean, Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies

international students mobility trends three waves

Here is an excerpt from the article:

The conceptual framework of Three Waves of International Student Mobility indicates that the competitive landscape has evolved over the years and American higher education institutions face more volatility and uncertainty. The first wave is characterized by the terrorist attack of 9/11, which resulted in stricter visa barriers for international students coming to the US. The global financial crisis shaped the second wave resulting in compelling many institutions to expand international enrollment to generate additional sources of revenue. Wave III is shaped by the uncertainties triggered by the new political order in the US, particularly the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that have raised barriers to attracting international students.

Table 1. International Student Enrollment Change by Level of Education

Wave I Wave II
2001/02 2007/08 % Change 2008/09 2015/16 % Change
Undergraduate 261,079 243,360 -7% 269,874 427,313 58%
Graduate 264,749 276,842 5% 283,329 383,935 36%
Non-Degree 34,423 46,837 36% 51,812 85,093 64%
Total (excl. OPT) 560,251 567,039 1% 605,015 896,341 48%

Data Source: Open Doors. Institute of International Education.

Here are six strategies that can support international enrollment growth to succeed in the Third Wave:

  1. Promote university destination

Until recently, American higher education institutions did not need to persuade international students about the attractiveness of the US as a destination. However, in the current political climate, students are bombarded with information which often raises their concerns ranging from safety to immigration policies. Jeet Joshee, Associate Vice President, International Education and Global Engagement and Dean, College of Professional and International Education at California State University, Long Beach notes that he is pursuing a “public relations” approach to first clear lots of apprehensions and misinformation generated by rumor mills.

  1. Articulate program differentiation

International students have ample choices which are proliferating with new models of learning, including online and lower-cost offerings in alternative destinations. Sandra Janusch, Assistant Vice Provost, International & Academic Programs at University of Washington, Continuum College says, “we are extensively reviewing our unique value proposition in a highly competitive market where international students are expecting more in terms of experiential learning opportunities.” She adds that the aspects of the university expertise in the context of Seattle’s location “offers unique experiences for our students and we intend to more actively leverage location advantage in our programs.”

  1. Enhance program relevance

Overcoming the external volatility is also about ensuring the program relevance. Kelly J. Otter, Dean, School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University says that we take a deeper view of our audience and labor market needs and match them with the competencies which will be delivered by the program. The School uses market research, benchmarking studies, labor market trends, and job description reviews to drill down on the competencies in demand and complements this data with the viewpoints of employers and alumni to ascertain curriculum relevancy. This allows us to have a stronger alignment of our programs with the local and global labor markets, she adds.

  1. Optimize online programs

While student journeys, decision-making processes, and expectations have evolved, institutional channels for recruiting and offering academic programs have lagged. Nelson Baker, Dean, Professional Education at Georgia Institute of Technology asserts “through online master’s degrees, we are optimizing the iron triangle of cost, accessibility, and excellence of our programs to reach qualified students worldwide.”  Since the launch of Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS), the program has experienced exponential growth reaching an enrollment of 8,656 students (Spring 2019 enrollment) with 32% international students from 104 countries.

  1. Accelerate digital outreach

With the launch of new programs and adoption of new online and blended delivery models, the choices available for international students will continue to increase. This means that institutions must put more proactive efforts in increasing the brand awareness for their programs. Consider the case of Harvard Extension School which offers a wide portfolio of 900 online and on campus courses and has the halo effect of the Harvard University does not takes global outreach for granted. Huntington Lambert, Dean, Harvard Division of Continuing Education says that the greatest minds and human potentials are distributed evenly around the world and for many international learners the only chance they will ever have to learn at Harvard is online.

  1. Partner with stakeholders

In times of enrollment challenges, universities must also find innovative ways to expand their resource and expertise base. A good partner can facilitate the change management process to achieve common goals, says Janusch. “We are becoming more active in partnering with a range of stakeholders- including vendors, employers, professional organizations, and universities- to boost expertise and become more strategic. We often look outside academia for ideas and solutions that can help us adapt to and address our new landscape,” adds Janusch.

Driving international enrollment growth in the third wave of intense competition and unfavorable political climate calls for innovation and proactive strategies that address the unique challenges and contexts to achieve desired outcomes. The success of many institutions will depend on how quickly and effectively they innovate and adapt to the new environment of the third wave.