International Student Community in US Higher Educational Institutions / Universities

A Review of Issues and Challenges in the Contemporary Era –


By Dr. M S R Dev

I had the privilege and opportunity to visit a number of Higher educational institutions / universities around the world. I was fascinated with the Art and Architecture, Class and Culture of a number of universities in the United Kingdom, Australia and United States. This article is centered around the thoughts lingering on the universities in the United States. Most of the universities in US have their own uniqueness as well as the commonalities in campus culture, creative environment, systems, structure and strategies and so also the associated challenges and opportunities in teaching, research and learning systems. I am going to address and analyze one of the top most challenges / issues that is being discussed, debated and reported in the present time – the international student’s attrition in campus, a growing concern. As I visualize the above issue in my mindscape, I could observe many thoughtful scenarios that I am going to sketch down.

Most of the Better Universities in the US are constantly struggling and striving to imbibe / evolve unique campus characteristics such as, United Campus (students – staff – faculties – management —), Culture Friendly Campus, Peaceful Campus (sans violence and crime), Smart Campus (technology friendly), Green Campus (sustainable), prosperous Campus (infrastructures, —) and Spiritual Campus (divinity, Enlightenment, —). These campuses visualize the university education and enrichment mission for the students:-

  • To imbibe an ability to think logically, analytically and independently
  • To communicate clearly and effectively
  • To make learn on one’s own
  • To broaden the knowledge in the form of variety of academic fields and potential interest and to deepen the skill set in specific fields in order to have a sense of power that comes with the learning
  • To acquire a set of personal and professional values
  • To develop and enhance the inner potential of individuals – intellectual, moral, emotional, physical, social, cultural and spiritual
  • To prepare to take up a career with the required professional knowledge and skill sets

Year after year, millions of students strive to get admission to diverse higher educational institutions / universities with the above mission in their mind. In the above journey, one of the trend we witness in this century is that a growing number of international students mostly from the developing world are seeking admission to the universities in the developed world. Yes, the American universities do welcome these international students and we could witness the crowd especially from the countries such as, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Korea, etc. American universities do kindle the creative and innovative thinking. It is striving continuously to seek and reach out the best of higher education in the 21st century. Today, the US host around world’s 4 – 5 million students – than any other country. The average percentage of international students varies from 10 – 30 % of total number of students in most of the universities today. In the year 2013 – 14, US enrolled around 880000 undergraduate and graduate students to its colleges and universities. The students from China, India and South Korea represent about half of the international students in US.

The US Universities welcome the International student community keeping in mind the following benefits :

  • The international students add diversity to a university enriching the experience of other students in the campus
  • Schools with strong global presence often have a wealth of cultural groups and events – allowing national students an opportunity to share their food, music and traditions with their US peers.
  • The fees remitted by international students is a major share of revenue for the universities’ total income

Yes, the number of international students in US colleges and universities continues to climb year after year. There is market growth in international student enrollment at present. It is interesting also to note that there is larger scale growth of international students leaving the universities in recent years. This is the thought process that being tried to address in this article. What makes the international students leave? Why they prefer to leave? The percentage of attrition today is touching 50% — 80% — even 90% in specific cases. The investigative research on the above issue of attrition of international students is getting initiated and growing. What are the Causes, Consequences and Cure (3 Cs) for attrition? It does call for focused research and analysis.

The growing Attrition (A) of international students is the top most challenge for the universities as compared to other challenges such as, Behaviour (B) and Culture in Campus, Conflicts (C) and Crime in the Campus, Discrimination (D) in the Campus and Engagement (E) in the Campus.

When we start visualizing the root cause of Attrition, we come across a number of reasons such as, Financial reasons, Academic reasons, Socio Cultural reasons, etc.. The root cause study and analysis can be based upon the following sources of investigation:

  • Federal laws and Acts
  • Interviews (international students, faculties, etc.)
  • Academic research
  • Case studies and analysis
  • Database
  • Reports published
  • Specific analysis

In general, the following factors are arrived as the cause of attrition of international students and can vary between region to region:

  1. Financial issues – Affordability – higher education is going to be expensive. The factors most cited by the students were squarely economic / financial – access to jobs / internships / availability of scholarships etc. Today, total fee is 2.5 to 4 times that of national inflation. The Indian currency severely devalued against US Dollar – many Indian students were hard hit by that.
  2. Academic issues – Parental pressure, disappointed program expectations, disorganized life style, large class rooms —
  3. Environmental issues – The instances of prejudice and discrimination, exclusion, humiliation, —- observed in the campus.
  4. Socio – Cultural issues – Socialization, communication, not-interacting — dissatisfaction with local food and dormitories.
  5. Psychological issues – Loneliness, homesickness, depression, stress and anxiety, family problems and frustration —
  6. Emergence of growing online options – Off campus higher educational trends with the aid of modern technologies – virtual campuses – Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) —
  7. Spending of 4 years in the college is too much – taking the yardstick of time span for new generation
  8. Cultural pressure to go to college immediately after the high school is slowly melting down
  9. Formal university degrees not yielding ROI (Return on Investment) that it used to be
  10. The educational loans and debts cripple the students during the career start phase itself
  11. Lack of social adjustments – local American students are observed more socially adjusted to university life when compared to international students
  12. Language and communication – English language difficulties.

The next part of the article will try to address the Consequence of Attrition of International Students and the possible and feasible cure of the problems. The ultimate outcome must be to learn the lessons – the Ways and Means – ‘How to bridge the Gap – What the International Students want and what is provided with the backup of creative and innovative research policies and programs.


Andrade.M.S. (2009). The value of a first year seminar; International students’ insights in retrospect: Journal of College Student Retention. 10(4), 483 -506

Beane, B.A. (1985). A model for foreign student retention and attrition: A case study of Sunny-Buffalo. Dissertation Abstracts International.

Byrd,P. (1991). Issues in the recruitment and retention of International students by academic programs in the United States (Eric Higher Education Report).

Cubilli,J., Sanchez,J. and Cervino,J. (2006). International students’ decision-making process. International Journal of Educational Management, 20(2), 101-150.

Fitzgerald, V.F. (1998). The identification of problems in academic and social support systems by international students. Dissertation Abstracts International. (UMI No. 9834459)

Hansen, M.E. (1993). An orientation and leadership training handbook for international students (Beacon College Handbook). Edison, NJ: Middlesex County College.

About the Author

Dr.DevDr. M S R Dev

Dr. M S R Dev is an educational and management consultant, trainer and writer. He is the executive Chairman of KPi (Knowledge Partners International), and Patron of GIIMS (Global Institute of Integral Management System). He heads the management training and consulting company – CGI (Corporate Guru International). He was the former Executive Chairman of Vidya Bharathi Group of Institutions, Cochin, India. He is the guest editor of TiGES.