What You Need to Know About International Students and the Universities Hoping to Attract Them

1. Universities need international students.

Foreign students are becoming a “must-have” component for the largest to the smallest private and public schools. In fact, international students accounted for over half of the growth of undergraduate and graduate enrollment last year. Why are they so essential?

  • Students from abroad are lucrativeOver two-thirds pay full tuition funded by their families or by programs in their home nations. At U.S. state schools, foreign students typically pay more than any other student category.
  • They bring revenue to the community.Each year international students contributebillions of dollars to the U.S. economy.
  • They increase schools’ global prestige, allowing them to become more selective.
  • They expand a school’s intellectual capitalGraduates provide important business and academic ties to the countries they come from.

2. Schools actively recruit students from abroad.

For many colleges and universities, increasing international enrollment has become anintegral part of their strategic growth plan, so important that larger schools have budgeted for committees tasked with reaching on going recruitment goals. Schools with smaller resources often use the services of Education USA, a U.S. Department of State-supported network of advisor centers around the world, and private third-party recruiters and agencies.

Even though the United States leads the world in total number of foreign students,it lags behind other countries in its share of foreign students relative to total enrollment. In Australia and the United Kingdom, international students comprise 23 and 17 percent of the total student bodies, respectively. In the U.S, that number was 3.7 percent in 2011–12, indicating there’s room for growth.

At some large prestigious schools like Columbia University, Stanford and the University of Southern California, international students account for more than 20 percent of enrollment. Smaller, less well-known schools are trying to beef up their numbers, but to doso they have to compete with large institutions.

Public institutions, especially land-grant universities, are also trying to become bigger players. For them, international students bring higher tuition rates than even domestic out-of-state students. For example, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities set up an undergraduate recruitment program in 2005 with a goal of making international students five percent of their incoming class. Parts of the program included a recruitment trip toBeijing, long-term budgeting and planning, and a review of campus services critical to foreign students like orientation, housing and visa services.

Word-of-mouth is particularly important in smaller schools’ recruitment efforts.Current students’ and past graduates’ on-campus experiences can make a huge diffrence in how a school is perceived overseas, especially within the context of social networking. Housing and orientation are critical components of a positive experience.

2. Three countries dominate at U.S. schools.

Almost half of all international students in the U.S. come from China, India or South Korea. One in four come from China, which sent over 194,000 students in 2011-12, up an incredible 23.1 percent from the year before. About half attend graduate programs, although undergraduate study is growing rapidly. India and South Korea contribute 100,000 and 72,000 respectively, but their numbers are starting to fatten out. 

An increasing number of schools in the U.S. and other countries are looking beyond China, India and South Korea to diversify their international student bodies. Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Vietnam and Turkey potentially offer the greatest growth in full-tuition students. Key factors include:

  • Saudi Arabia’s outfow of students has increased due to the funding provided by the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. In recent years, 90 percent of Saudi students abroad receive funds.  The U.S. benefts by attracting 40 percent of Saudi students going abroad.
  • Brazil’s middle class has boomed, prompting the number of students pursuing post-secondary education to increase threefold in the last decade. The Brazil Scientific Mobility program provides scholarships primarily in STEM fields (science, technology, engineeringand math) for one year of study in the U.S. Students return to Brazil to complete their degrees.
  • Vietnam’s growing middle class sent over 100,000 students abroad in 2011. Around 15 percent came to the U.S., where their education has been largely focused at the community college level.
  • Turkey’s youth population (ages 15-29) makes up 30 percent of the total population, the highest level in Europe. It has consistently been in the top 10 places of origin for international students in the U.S., with 40 percent of outbound students landing at American schools.

The market is more than just rentals. While university housing used to resemble inexpensive apartment buildings in less-than-desirable parts of town, today’s international students and their parents often look for more. The U.S.housing market is still viewed as a sound investment for foreign buyers, especially those with a medium to long investment horizon. Some parents of international students may be interested in buying a condo or even a house for the four or more years their child will be in school.

After graduation, the property can start generating rental income while also potentially gaining value. Tim Hur, CIPS,President, of Point Horizon Realty of Atlanta, recalls a property he sold to the father of a Chinese student at GeorgiaTech. After graduation it became a rental. “When the buyer’s friends asked about the school, he told them about the investment. They called me to find a similar opportunity,” says Hur.

Parents looking to invest may also be interested in purchasing a multi-unit building. Know your market near campus and be prepared to provide informationon vacancy rates, yield, rents, property management costs and market trends.

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.


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Global Perspectives in Real Estate is a resource for global professionals, aimed at helping them globalize their local markets. Produced bi-monthly, this newsletter serves as a how-to guide and is full of useful and actionable tips. A free subscription is given to all Certified International Property Specialists (CIPS) designees.

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