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Int’l school grads can cushion US UG enrolment blow, says report

New data from BridgeU shows how interest from international school graduates in key global markets, combined with a focused recruitment and marketing strategy, can cushion a predicted undergraduate “enrolment cliff” in the US.

In 2018, Nathan Grawe, economist at Carleton College, predicted that the college-going population will drop by some 15% from 2025 to 2029.

The decrease will be caused by “a sharp decline in the number of births following the Great Recession”, said Grawe.

As a result, BridgeU is urging US colleges and universities to “shift their focus to recruiting international school K-12 students”.

According to BridgeU, the enrolment cliff, which predicts undergraduate enrolment dropping to 3.9 million by 2025, “poses a significant threat to the well-being of higher education institutions and could result in a less educated and work-ready society in the long run”.

The Redefining Global Talent Pipelines: The Crucial Role of International School Graduates in Sustaining and Enriching U.S. Undergraduate Higher Education report examines the importance of international school K-12 graduates in sustaining and enriching US higher education institutions by analysing data from 250,000 applications representing over 32,000 applicants from 142 countries.

It stresses that international students play an integral part in securing long-term tuition revenue for US higher education institutions and in filling much-needed talent gaps in an already stressed labour market.

“The acute shortage of STEM graduates, in particular, threatens the US’s ability to remain globally competitive in the longer term,” said a spokesperson for the edtech platform, which aims to better higher education outcomes for international students.

“International students, who make up 72% of all graduate students in computer and information sciences and between 50-70% of graduate students studying other key STEM fields, must be recognised as an important source of prospective US labour market participants.”

The report urges US higher education institutions to “develop strategies to attract and retain this diverse pool of applicants”.

It also hints that graduates from international schools could help to welcome Chinese students to the country, as China reopens its borders.

According to the report, the US is seeing resurgent interest from China along with new regional opportunities. The data shows that applications to the US from China have increased by 6.2% from 2022 to 2023, and more than 50% of international school students in Southeast Asia are interested in applying to a US university.

Source: BridgeU

Stakeholders have recently warned of Chinese students and their parents being put off by the US due to safety concerns.

The parents of Chinese students want their kids to go somewhere safer, “with no guns”, Eric Yu, CEO and Co-Partner, United Media Solution, told The PIE.

Despite this, according to the report, the US continues to be a popular destination for students in China, with over 70% of BridgeU students graduating in 2023 shortlisting the US at the research and consideration phase of their application journey.

“This suggests that, despite geopolitical tensions between the US and China and the closure of China’s borders until a few months ago, international school students in this country are still open to the opportunities of a US higher education,” said the report.

However, further key findings highlight the importance of conversion.

While the average number of applications submitted to US institutions per student has remained broadly steady across markets during the last five admissions cycles, conversion from early demonstrated interest in the US as a study destination through to application submission varies considerably by geography.

Although European students actively considered US universities at an increase of 6.2% from 2022 to 2023, applications did not increase significantly.

“The international school K-12 segment continues to expand, driven by demand from middle and upper-middle-income families in emerging markets,” said a spokesperson for BridgeU.

In the last 10 years, international schools globally have increased by 52% to 13,190 schools in January 2023, and according to BridgeU, there is “continued confidence in the market which forecasts growth in international K-12 schools in the 5-8% CAGR range”.

The report reminds US higher education institutions that although the opportunity presented by the growth in international schools is “great”, a competitive landscape remains, with over 80% of international students considering the US also considering an institution in at least one other country – with some shortlisting as many as five.

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