As higher education institutions and organizations have faced increasing uncertainty over the last two years, understanding and utilizing high-quality data is the key to being adaptable and competitive in an ever-changing environment. Shorelight is tapping into its industry-leading data and technology to analyze the top five trends in international student higher education for 2022 and provide key insights for our partners.
1. The Market Is Resilient, but Be Aware of the New Normal
After an expected dip in student visas issued due to COVID-19 and related travel restrictions, we saw a strong rebound in F-1 visas issued from May to September 2021 — a promising sign that the market is resilient. In Fall 2021, the US issued 288,018 new F-1 visas to international students, surpassing visas issued in Fall 2018 and Fall 2019.
Despite this rebound, higher education institutions and organizations must prepare for the new normal in student mobility and adapt. COVID-19 will continue to bring uncertainty, including frequently changing travel restrictions and companies and jobs shifting to digital-first environments.
“It’s a dynamic environment, and things are changing all the time,” Brian Meagher, vice president of data science and analytics at Shorelight, said.
As a result, universities offer more flexibility for international students, with many going test-optional, changing entry requirements, and adjusting deadlines and start dates.
Data also indicate growth among postgraduate students as demand for digital job opportunities drives more demand for specialization and more appropriate jobs for our new normal.
2. STEM and OPT Opportunities Will Continue to Drive Demand in the US
International students continue to pursue STEM and optional practical training (OPT) at high rates and drive demand in the US. Students eligible for OPT can apply what they learned in their degree programs, gain real-world work experience, and potentially secure a US work visa. The US saw significant growth in OPT students between 2015 and 2017, followed by a likely temporary dip due to COVID-19 in 2020, which is expected to rebound strongly.
Students in STEM OPT degree programs are particularly driving the demand.
In 2008, only 4% of all OPT students studied STEM OPT. Today, more than a third of OPT students participate in a STEM OPT degree program.
Job growth and high pay in STEM-related fields are most likely driving most of the demand among international students. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that STEM jobs are projected to grow by 10.5% between 2020 and 2030, compared to a 7.5% increase in non-STEM occupations. Careers in STEM also pay significantly better. The median annual salary for STEM jobs is more than two times higher than the median annual salary for non-STEM positions.
On January 21, the federal government acknowledged the strong demand for STEM OPT positions and announced it would make students in 22 additional STEM-related degree programs eligible for OPT.
Digitization across the globe is influencing in-demand jobs. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Survey in 2020, the top 10 jobs with increasing demand are in industries including big data, information systems, and artificial intelligence. Higher education institutions and organizations should be prepared to connect students with related degree programs and jobs.
3. Big Data Drives Enrollment Predictability (When Used Wisely)
Organizations with a culture of learning and adaptability using data will have a competitive advantage in 2022.
“This includes institutions, universities, schools, recruiters, agencies, counselors — those that actually take the time to learn and use data in the right way to inform what’s coming next will be the ones that have a competitive advantage,” Meagher said.
Shorelight utilizes its analytics engine daily to inform more productivity and effectiveness. Shorelight uses an estimated 9.5 million data points logged per day to understand obstacles students might face and inform how we can help them overcome those challenges.
For example, our data helps us achieve predictable visa outcomes. Every time a student makes it to the deposit stage, they get placed into a risk category for visa approval success — low risk, medium risk, and high risk. By placing students in the correct categories, Shorelight directs appropriate resources to the students who need more preparation and support through the visa process to maximize student enrollment.
“This is one way we use data to help foster predictability in our enrollment pipeline,” Meagher said.
Our data and how it informs our student support efforts makes a difference. Students who utilize Shorelight are more likely to be approved for a visa than a typical student.
4. Global-to-Local: To Expand, Think like a Local
In 2022, universities looking to grow will go beyond their typical approach to enrolling and recruiting international students. Data indicate that students beyond major cities want to study in the US. Universities and organizations can expand their enrollment by understanding country and city-specific trends to target new areas.
When looking at country-specific opportunities in India or China, for example, “even though there are a few hot spots of demand, there are students from all over the country studying with us today,” Meagher said. “If you think there are opportunities for growth outside your own catchment area, there are.”
Shorelight’s data engine identifies differences in student demand by country, region, and even city level. Universities can assess data about where in the world students are pursuing certain degree programs, which universities they are studying at, and at which price points to target their recruitment efforts accurately.
“We can try to understand some of the differences in regions and countries around the world to help universities expand their catchment area,” Meagher said.
5. The Student Experience Is Key to Thrive in 2022
Shorelight data shows that institutions and organizations that prioritize the student experience see increases in enrollment.
“As institutions and organizations focus on student success at every stage of the journey, they get better experiences and outcomes for students, which actually leads to more enrollments and more opportunities for growth,” Meagher said.
Students and parents are sharing feedback with their peers. Students who don’t have a good experience are more likely to seek other opportunities than in previous years.
“It is all about students,” Meagher said. “These are people we are working with and their lives that we are changing.”