ETS CEO Amit Sevak: Fostering a diverse community of international students in the US

Educational Testing Service CEO Amit Sevak discusses the formation and objectives of the USSC, highlighting the urgent need to address the decline in the nation’s appeal to global talent.

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Amid concerns about the diminishing appeal of the United States to global talent, a coalition has been formed, aiming to reshape the landscape of international education. 

The consortium, known as the US for Success Coalition, comprises a diverse array of organizations from education, think tanks, and advocacy sectors. 

The urgency to reposition the US as the foremost destination for international students and foster diversity across higher education institutions has brought these entities together in a collective effort.

In an interview with MSM Reporter, Educational Testing Service CEO Amit Sevak provided key insights into the formation and objectives of the USSC. As a central figure in this initiative, Sevak cited the pressing need to address the decline in the nation’s attractiveness to global talent. 

The USSC, under the leadership of ETS, advocates for policy changes and adopts a comprehensive approach outlined through seven interconnected goals. A primary focus is on expanding diversity within the international student community, aiming to issue policy recommendations, collaborate with policymakers, and provide resources to institutions to achieve this ambitious objective.

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

We’re losing the race for international talent in the United States. With more than 4,000 higher education institutions in the US, we have more capacity than any other nation to welcome a greater and more diverse community of international students. Our organizations cut across education, think tanks, and advocacy to ensure we’re thinking holistically about our approach to how we best serve international students here in the US. Each organization that is part of this coalition, including ETS, has been working toward this goal and thinking collectively about how we can now move the needle in a more impactful way.

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? 

The coalition has identified seven interconnected goals to enable the US higher education system to continue as the leading destination for the world’s global talent. One of these goals is to expand the diversity of the international student community. We’ll do this through issuing policy recommendations and working with policy makers as well as offering resources to institutions to help expand opportunities for international students to succeed in the US.

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

As the coalition grows, two of the sectors we’re most keen to ensure we have representation from are in higher education as well as among governments. While the contributions of institutions are apparent, including government officials ensures we’re considering the contributions international students make outside of our classrooms and in our local and state economies. Many college towns across the country rely on and benefit from international student workers in their communities, and we want to ensure that this is maintained.

How is the coalition addressing skills and employability?

One of our seven interconnected goals as a coalition is to facilitate immigration pathways for international students. This is inclusive of employment-based visas and immigration for F-1 international students who are seeking to launch careers in the US after graduation, are recruited by US companies, and protect experiential learning programs that give students work experience.

Data shows the top 100 receiving US institutions get more than half of international students. Does this mean the coalition will be actively advocating for an increased share of students among the remaining 3,900 institutions, and how does the coalition intend to do so? 

One of our goals as a coalition is to increase and diversify international student enrollment across more institutions in the US. We were intentional in noting that this would be across a broad range of higher education institutions, including community colleges and minority-serving institutions. As we welcome more coalition members in the weeks and months ahead, I am encouraged by the progress we’ll make in accomplishing this goal as a group.

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

ETS is committed, alongside our coalition partners, to ensuring that all international students, regardless of where they live, see the US as the premier destination for them to study and share their talents long-term. We are an equal partner and contributor in this initiative and look forward to the work we have ahead and will accomplish together as the group expands.

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? 

While it was good to see positive growth for international students coming to the United States since the pandemic, the enormous growth of students studying from India (35% year-over-year) should not be understated. ETS has also witnessed this trend, related to our own data on TOEFL and GRE test-taking volumes, shift in a similar fashion, with India eclipsing China in the last few years. Regardless of country of origin, however, when international students choose the US to earn their degrees, we all succeed. International students create jobs, drive innovation and research, enrich our classrooms, strengthen national security, and become America’s greatest foreign policy ambassadors. For these and many other reasons, diversifying enrollment of international students is imperative.

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? 

It has been and will continue to be important for our campuses to reflect the global community into which our students will graduate. This brings about numerous benefits from not only a workforce but also a societal perspective, resulting in more globalized, educated citizens who can contribute in new and meaningful ways to our economy and world.

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

ETS is an organization that is no stranger to serving international students and learners across the globe. We are looking forward to moving the needle with our coalition partners on changing the narrative globally about what it means to study and live in the United States after college and that the contributions of people, no matter where in the world they are from, are valued here.

How does this consortium open up the possibility of creating a national policy for international education/internationalization of US HEIs? 

We look forward to seeing how this may become a real possibility for the coalition in the coming months as the group expands. We are excited to welcome more cross-sector members in order to help make the possibility of a national policy a reality, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that takes shape in our work ahead.

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