AIRC’s Brian Whalen: Championing US for Success Coalition standards

AIRC is a driving force within the US for Success Coalition, championing policy changes and recognized standards to enhance both the quantity and quality of international students in US international education.

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The Association of International Enrollment Management (AIRC) is playing a central role in reshaping US international education as a key member of the US for Success Coalition. 

Some of the members of the coalition include the Alliance for International Exchange, Educational Testing Service, FWD.us, Institute of International Education, Niskanen Center, NAFSA, Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, Shorelight, Association of International Education Administrators, and World Education Services. The group is dedicated to advocating policy changes to uphold the United States’ appeal to international students. 

In an interview with MSM Reporter, AIRC Executive Director Brian Whalen, PhD. highlighted the coalition’s dual focus on increasing both the quantity and quality of international students. 

Recognized by the US government as a standards development organization, AIRC brings a unique perspective to the coalition, highlighting the importance of setting standards for the growth of international student enrollment. 

Why did you find the need to form the coalition, and how did the members come together?

AIRC shares the view of the founding members that the United States can do a better job of promoting diverse, high-quality educational avenues to attract more international students and to help ensure that they are successful. We have an enormous capacity to host more international students. By working more closely with each other as a sector, we will be much more effective in recruiting and enrolling them. As with many good ideas, this initiative started over a dinner conversation with a group of leaders in the field who share a commitment to improving international education in the United States and to helping to ensure international student success. 

In light of international students flocking mostly to major US universities and Ivy League schools, how much is the diversification of the international students coming to the US a common goal for the group? How do you intend to achieve this? 

This is an essential goal. A clear strength of the US is the diversity of our institutions, programs, degrees, and professional skill development options, as well as the diversity of our people and the cultures and backgrounds they represent. This combination of societal and educational diversity, I believe, makes the US well-positioned to expand the diversity of students from different cultures and nations around the world. We have the opportunity, through the coalition, to showcase model practices in recruiting, enrolling, and supporting student success. By sharing with and supporting each other, the coalition can lift all organizations, institutions, and stakeholders up to make all of us more successful.  

What government partnerships and collaborations are you eyeing, and can share with us at this stage? 

In the past few years, the US government has been very engaged in collaborating, supporting, and leading efforts to expand international student enrollment. I think the coalition will only make this stronger. I foresee even greater partnerships and collaborations with the Department of State, US Commercial Service, Department of Education, and other government entities, including state governments, building on the work that has already been done over the past three years.

How is the coalition addressing skills and employability?

Showcasing the outcomes of students’ educational experiences in the United States, particularly in terms of skill development and employability, is extremely important. As we know from recent student surveys, these outcomes are of paramount importance to students when selecting a study destination. It will be important to share model practices in facilitating skill development and employability and to use our collective voice to advocate for national policies that provide intentional pathways for international students to pursue additional educational and employment opportunities in the US. Our country will be all the more stronger because of this.

What is AIRC’s role, mandate, and/or key priorities in this coalition? 

I would mention three in particular: 

  1. Expanding the ways that we think about and practice international student enrollment and recruitment. AIRC’s membership and scope involve a broad range of educational institutions that attract international students, including secondary schools. Our focus is on providing guidelines, resources, and best practice solutions that impact the entire lifecycle of the international student, from recruitment to enrollment to student success. 
  2. Ensuring quality and ethics through standards. Because AIRC is recognized by the US Government as a Standards Development Organization, we have a special role to play in developing and promoting the standards that will undergird the growth of international student enrollment. This is critical because we not only need to focus on increasing the number of students, but we also need to ensure ongoing quality improvement so that our programs, institutions, and organizations have the best interests of international students in mind.
  3. Fostering, supporting, and sustaining partnerships between institutions, educational recruitment agencies, and service provider organizations and companies. AIRC sits at the intersection of a wide variety of entities involved in international student enrollment – secondary schools, higher education, and professional schools, student recruitment agencies, and service provider organizations. We provide guidance on how to develop, manage, assess, and sustain partnerships between these entities. As the coalition grows, AIRC will be able to provide the know-how about how coalition members relate effectively and ethically with one another.

What’s your comment on the findings of the recent Open Doors report on the appeal of the US to international students as a destination (perhaps a long-term view of it) and their economic and knowledge contributions to the country? 

International students are a key to the future of the United States. When we see a dramatic increase in the number of students enrolling in higher education options, that should make us feel good about the future of our country. It is a clear indication that one of our leading exports – education – is valued around the world. Moreover, our work as international educators takes on even greater importance when we realize that we are helping to shape tomorrow’s innovators and contributors to our diverse society. Open Doors validates the quality of our higher education offerings and signals a brighter future for the US.

How will the coalition – its formation, the work it will be doing – influence DEI efforts, particularly as it targets international students coming from the Global South? 

The real strength of the coalition will be in its inclusiveness and its ability to attract the diversity of organizations, institutions, and stakeholders that support and have an interest in our field. I believe that we will need to include and have representation of the enormously diverse approaches and programs that attract international students to the US, including secondary institutions and non-credit programs. This is the time to be bold and expansive in our thinking and to be open and inclusive in growing the coalition.

What do you look forward to with this coalition and the individual contribution of its multisectoral members?

I am very interested to see how the coalition becomes a rallying point for the field and our associations, institutions, organizations, government, and stakeholders. A centralized entity such as this can unify us and provide greater coordination of efforts, resulting in broader impacts. I’m reminded of the well-known Gestalt theory: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Another way to say that is, “Together, we are stronger.” I’ve been in the international education field for 40 years, and this is the first time that I have sensed that we are genuinely uniting based on our shared international education goals and values.

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