Dr. Fanta Aw of NAFSA: US for Success Coalition’s vision for international student enrollment

Fanta Aw, PhD, executive director and chief executive officer of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, stressed the diminishing post-pandemic surge and said that the US must address barriers hindering international student participation. 

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The US for Success Coalition emerged as a response to the critical challenges cited in reports about international student enrollment. 

Despite an impressive 12 percent increase in overall numbers, international undergraduate enrollment in the US remains stagnant, and new enrollments show only a modest 2 percent rise, with 30 percent of institutions reporting a decrease compared to Fall 2022. 

In an interview with MSM Reporter, Fanta Aw, PhD, executive director and chief executive officer of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, stressed the diminishing post-pandemic surge and said that the US must address barriers hindering international student participation. 

The USSC, with NAFSA as one of the founding members, directly tackles these challenges. Its goals align with NAFSA’s longstanding priorities, focusing on diversification in origin, expanding destinations within the US, and supporting student success across a broader range of institutions. 

The coalition aims to forge government partnerships, particularly with the US Department of State, to address visa denial rates affecting students from the Global South. USSC aims to unify voices, influencing policies to create a more inclusive and attractive environment for international students in the US

As a founding member, NAFSA contributes to USSC’s unified voice, advocating for a more inclusive environment for international students in the US.

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

International students are essential to exchanging ideas and intercultural understanding on US campuses, our communities, and workplaces. They are at the heart of so many technological advances, research innovations, and successful businesses in this country. In return, we must commit to ensuring every student who wishes to study, research, and work here has a pathway and the support to thrive. 

Coming out of COVID and the strain that was placed on international education and exchange, the forming of this coalition signals that major players within the field are coming together to double down on the critical importance of international student enrollment to U.S. society, higher ed., and economy. It is so important that we speak with one voice around shared priorities. In this way, we can make greater inroads.

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?

Achieving diversification in terms of country and region of origin is a core goal of the US. for Success Coalition. So is expanding the geographic destinations for students within the U.S. and supporting student success at a broader range of institutions, including community colleges and historically black colleges and universities. These are long-held priorities at NAFSA. Some of our approaches include working with the US. Department of State to find solutions for visa denial rates that are disproportionately affecting students from the Global South. We will also be working closely with higher education institutions to define best practices for assuring student success at every step of the student’s journey and advocating for students on campus and with Congress.

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

Government partnership is key. NAFSA has long advocated with the White House and federal agencies in favor of a national strategy for international education. We have made inroads. That’s evident in the language of the U.S. Departments of State and Education’s Joint Statement of Principles and the US Department of Commerce’s 2023 National Export Strategy, which includes international education for the first time. We will build on this foundation as we press the White House, the federal agencies, and Congress to do their part to make the U.S. more welcoming to international students. Congress, for example, should pass legislative provisions that would expand dual intent and create a pathway to a green card for international student graduates—and not just STEM majors.

How is the coalition addressing skills and employability?

Our engagement with higher education institutions will include a focus on how best to prepare international and domestic students alike with the intercultural skills and competencies they need to be successful in a multicultural society and a job market that is rapidly changing as technology advances.

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

A commitment to achieving diversity inside and outside the profession and expanding access to international education is core to NAFSA’s mission. You can see this in our long-standing call for a national strategy for international education and our leadership around the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act, which would make a study abroad experience more accessible to a wider variety of students and in a wider variety of places.

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?

We do not make it easy for international students to bring their talents here, and we see that reflected in Open Doors and IIE’s Fall 2023 Snapshot Survey. The Open Doors data for 2022-2023 reveals that enrollment gains were largely driven by graduate students (+21%) as international undergraduate enrollment was basically stagnant (+1%). The IIE Fall 2023 Snapshot Survey shows that new enrollment in 2023-24 only rose 2% and that 30% of US institutions reported a decrease in the number of new enrollments compared to Fall 2022.

The post-pandemic bump caused by pent-up demand is beginning to fade. The US cannot rest on its laurels. Their contributions to all aspects of U.S. society are too important.

Consider that one-quarter of the founders of the $1 billion US startup companies first came to the US as international students and immigrants have been awarded 40% of the Nobel prizes won by Americans in chemistry, medicine, and physics since 2000.

International students’ direct economic contributions are significant also. NAFSA’s new analysis of data from the 2022-2023 academic year shows they and their families generated more than $40 billion and supported more than 368,000 jobs.

The US for Success Coalition will work with government agencies and Congress to remove barriers and find solutions to expand and diversify the community of international students studying, working, and living in the US.

How will the coalition – its formation, the work it will be doing – influence DEI efforts, particularly as it targets?

The work we are engaged in intersects very much with DEI. We are advocating with the coalition for the need to diversify students in terms of regions and institutions. Additionally, the coalition feels it is important that the students who come to the US have a sense of belonging. Institutions have a responsibility to create a welcoming environment where students are able to thrive. Issues of equity and access are vitally important.

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos has been a professional journalist for five years now. She has contributed and covered stories for premier Philippine dailies and publications, and has traveled to different parts of the country to capture and tell the most significant stories happening.

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Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos has been a professional journalist for five years now. She has contributed and covered stories for premier Philippine dailies and publications, and has traveled to different parts of the country to capture and tell the most significant stories happening.

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