Going Global: Top Trends in International Education

By Mary Thompson-Jones.

Mary-Thompson-Jones, Ed.D., MALD, is a faculty member and the academic director of Northeastern University’s Master’s in Global Studies and International Relations. Thompson-Jones has 23 years of experience as a career diplomat and foreign policy practitioner.

Leaving your college or university to learn in another country has never been more popular.

Nearly 820,000 international students study in U.S. colleges and universities—a record number, and an increase of 9.8% over the previous year. Here at Northeastern, we are the seventh largest university hosting international students, with almost 8,000 students.

More Americans are choosing to go overseas as well. Some 283,000 U.S. undergrad and graduate students now study abroad, an increase of 3.4% over the previous year. Overall, U.S. student participation in abroad programs has more then tripled in the past two decades.

This uptick is great news for those interested in building effective international educational programs. Here are some of the top trends in international study:

1. Diversifying programs

Many American students are eager to move beyond the classroom environment to engage in work experiences and service-learning projects that add meaning to their travels. It’s clear that the old model of students sitting in a foreign university’s classrooms has been tossed aside for more dynamic programs that incorporate experiential learning.

2. The rise of a third party

More Americans are seeking to learn specific subject matter – studying art in Cambodia, learning architecture in China – in non-traditional countries. Small- and medium-sized colleges can’t meet this demand, which entails creating and managing new programs. Third-party providers are increasingly contracting with schools to put together programs using their own contacts and staff. 

3. Changing destinations

There’s been a big increase in students coming to study in America from China – 28%. Students from other increasingly represented countries are India, Iran, Brazil, and South Korea. Most American students still go to the UK to study abroad but there’s been a big increase in U.S. students going to new destinations, such as China, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Costa Rica, and Japan. 

4. Subjects of study

Most international students studying in the United States are opting to concentrate on Engineering and Business Management. They majority of Americans abroad study Social Sciences (about 22%), but there are big changes afoot in that many more are studying Engineering, Health Science, and Physical Life Sciences.