First GAISA Report on International Students: Findings are Eye-Opening, Sobering and Energizing

GAISA released an initial report, findings include large discrepancies between domestic and international student experiences.

We recently released GAISA’s very first International Student Report. When we began to work on our inaugural report, our aim was to review the research that focuses on the lives of international students in the U.S. We wanted to see what has been said about and for the students who come here to study. And very importantly, we wanted to bring in the actual voices of these students, who too often have been excluded from the conversations that most impact them.

What we found in researching the data on international students was eye-opening, sobering and yet energizing for the members of GAISA. What we didn’t find was equally so. In many areas, little information exists regarding the international student experience — and a big part of GAISA’s mission is to begin filling in those gaps.

We examined multiple facets of the international student experience, including:

  • Academics
  • Health
  • Financial & Legal Issues
  • Social & Cultural Experience
  • Workforce Readiness
  • Immigration Status

And true to our foundational commitment to listen directly to international students, we invited them to add their own experiences to our report. This we did in two ways. First, we included the results of a survey of both international and domestic students that we conducted in collaboration with the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) in the fall of 2020. And second, we built the report as a living document, with an embedded link to invite readers to contribute their thoughts and stories about the international student experience.

Key findings

Some of the more revealing data points we uncovered had to do with the integration of domestic and international students. It was disheartening to find that genuine connections between the two groups didn’t seem to be forming as much as we might hope.

  • 70% of domestic students said their college or university advertised their global and diverse student population when going through the admissions process
  • 57% of domestic students said interactions with international students have been a valuable or meaningful part of their collegiate experience
  • 52% of domestic students said they don’t have any international student friends

There was also a sense on the part of international students that they were not receiving the support they needed from their institutions.

  • 60% of international students said their institution was providing enough support and resources to enable their success.
  • But when asked about specific things their institution could do to better support them, 78% had numerous suggestions:
  • 21%: Enhanced resources for mental health, counselling, housing, nutrition, and healthcare
  • 21%: Increased focus on campus life integration
  • 19%: Enhanced academic advising and faculty support
  • 8%: Enhanced visa navigation assistance
  • 4%: Open dialogue about social issues
  • 4%: More personalized marketing and communications
  • 1%: Enhanced onboarding programming

Providing clarity for international students and their institutions

The United States has long been the top global destination for higher education, with 1.1 million international students studying in the U.S. in 2019. Of course, COVID-19 presented massive challenges for all students and institutions in 2020. But our research found that the pandemic has exacerbated issues for international students that have long been developing. For example, the government policies and politics of recent years have done little to make the U.S. a more welcoming destination for international students.

It should not be surprising, then, that there was a 25 percent drop in international enrolments in the U.S. in the fall of 2020. How this figure will be affected by the arrival of a new administration in Washington, D.C. — and the eventual roll-out of a vaccine for COVID-19 — remains to be seen.

The 2020 GAISA International Student Report serves as a key starting point to provide clarity on how we can move towards a future that welcomes international students to colleges and universities and ensures they are treated with respect and dignity. The reason I described our research as “energizing” is that there is much that we, the community of and for international students, can contribute to this process. But it’s clear we still have quite a road ahead of us.

Join us on the journey to help elevate the voices of international students. Access your free copy of the 2020 GAISA International Research Report