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International Education

Global Education Needs More Institutions Participating in Open Doors Research

With better international education data collection and reporting, the industry will have a more accurate and on-demand dataset that can bolster advocacy efforts and help organizations track trends and address emerging needs.

Earlier this week, the Institute of International Education (IIE) released its annual Open Doors report, an extensive survey of international exchange activity in the United States. But we need more colleges and universities to participate. The more institutions that submit their data for the annual survey, the better the data we have to muster collective influence with key stakeholders.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Open Doors report evaluates the number of international students and scholars studying at U.S. higher education institutions and the number of American college and university students studying abroad for academic credit.

And, while the report may be billed as "comprehensive," it isn't. Higher education institutions aren't required to submit their information. Many do, of course — some 1,000 or so, but hundreds more institutions have data to submit.

The reasons why so many institutions don't take part are varied, but a longstanding complaint is that the effort required to collect the data is daunting, sometimes taking weeks working across disparate campus units to pull everything together.

But today, perhaps more than ever, the industry needs every institution to step up. As international offices emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on reinvigorating their initiatives, the right data can make all the difference — bolstering their arguments to grow and expand and demonstrating their vital importance in the economy. Here's why it matters.

Overworked, Scattered Data

As a national snapshot of student mobility, Open Doors is a critical dataset. But each year, necessary changes and refinement make it more complex for institutions to collect and report the data in the required format. Schools must submit information in the same way; otherwise, the data will be unreliable.

International educators have only recently embraced the power of institutional data and analytics. It wasn't that long ago when students weren't even required to apply for an education abroad program formally, and they could theoretically study abroad without notifying anybody in the international office.

Even still, many institutions have done all they could to participate in Open Doors over the decades. We remember past colleagues closing their doors for weeks to focus on collecting and triangulating the data in the right way.

International education offices are especially strapped for time and resources. One and two-person teams are common, and these professionals are tasked with many responsibilities — from student advising and enrollment management to ensuring immigration compliance and effective program implementation. As a result, taking a month each year to gather the right data points across campus units for a national report tends to take a backseat.

But, spending that time collecting the data also can pay off for the industry. A better, more representative Open Doors report could mean more assistance and support for international higher education including those small, overworked offices.

Why Better Reporting Matters

When hundreds or thousands of institutions are missing from the Open Doors analysis, our industry misses out on opportunities to influence policymakers and lawmakers for support and funding.

A more robust report with data from a broader range of institutions will make it easier for organizations like IIE and NAFSA to advocate for international education. In addition, it will provide a complete picture of the billions of dollars that international education pumps into the economy at national and state levels, convincing lawmakers that it's an effort worth their time and attention.

With the right data, international educators will be better positioned to emphasize the importance of international education within their institutions and show how it can enhance and extend an institution's overall mission, values, and priorities.

It's important to note that Open Doors' data is a broad brush. These are not institutional snapshots or benchmarking opportunities for institutions to compare their programs with peer institutions elsewhere. Even still, institutions use the Open Doors data to understand the state of programming and enrollments and where they might improve.

Moreover, a more comprehensive Open Doors report means organizations that support international mobility have better information to track trends and discover emerging markets, so they can shift to address the needs and demands.

Thankfully, global engagement and enrollment management platforms have made it easier for institutions to respond to the annual Open Doors survey without manual data collection. As a result, international educators have options to complete the process seamlessly and with higher data veracity.

Once more institutions adopt ways to automate the international education data collection and reporting, the industry will have a more accurate and on-demand dataset that can bolster advocacy efforts. When combined with other international initiatives, this enables the industry to be more strategic, and our collective efforts to recruit, for example, grow immeasurably to meet the Open Doors' objective: providing insights to help drive the next generation of international higher education.

About the Authors

Anthony C. Ogden, Ph.D., is founder and managing director of Gateway International Group.

Anthony Rotoli is CEO of Terra Dotta.

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