Thanks to new survey data that made its debut at the recent NAFSA conference there was something more concrete for the assembled academics to talk about than usual. The new data gave clear form to the motivations behind international student retention and what it reveals will alternately confirm and confound the expectations of their advisors.
The survey, which asked both students and their advisors about the main sources of dissatisfaction for international students, revealed that both parties cited financial concerns as the most pressing concern. 36% of the international students polled in the survey, for example, cited affordability and another 34% cited the availability of scholarships as their main sources of dissatisfaction. A parallel survey indicates that, by and large, international educators and advisors are on the same page: 64% cited “financial difficulties” as the main reason for student attrition – and, again, the student data seems to bear this out. The student survey separated students by “transfer status”* and found that those who do not plan to transfer were twice as likely to report that institutional aid or scholarships are their two principal sources of funding than are students who plan to transfer.
Money Better Spent?
What does all this mean? In a nutshell, it means that the single greatest contributor to international student retention would appear to be the flipside of their greatest reason for dissatisfaction: funding. Unfortunately, despite their aforementioned awareness of this concern, the educators surveyed did not put this issue on the forefront of their list of student retention best practices. Instead international education advisors put far more emphasis on international student life activities, orientations, and academic tracking. This would suggest that they money spent to improve such programs could be better spent by helping students financial. Indeed, correcting such a disparity might go a long way toward increasing international student retention far more effectively than anyone in administration might have expected.
* That is, already transferred, plans to transfer, will not transfer.