The Employability Conundrum
Does international education have an employability problem?
Or, put another way, is there reason to worry about international graduates of American colleges finding work?
I think so. For one, we know that career considerations are a key factor for international students and their parents – just as they are for Americans. An October 2017 survey of international students and graduates by World Education Services found that three-quarters rated the recognition of an American degree back home and the ability to gain American work experience as very important to their decision to study in the United States. As one Chinese student told me, his family viewed coming here as a “golden chance” for his future.
But when I followed the student as he returned to China, that golden chance began to show a little tarnish. It took him six months to find a job, which is typical for Chinese returnees. Half of all Chinese-educated students, by contrast, have a job before graduation. As I wrote of the student, whose name is William:
Everywhere he turned, it seemed, were others who had studied overseas. He had counted on his foreign credentials to give him an edge when applying for jobs. "At first I was thinking study abroad is a privilege, an advantage, but now. … " It wasn’t so clear.
The WES survey found that, despite the employability challenge, students were generally satisfied with their American educational experience. But could some of that goodwill fray if international graduates continue to struggle to land a job, a good one?
A growing number of American – and Canadian – colleges are trying to do more to help international students make career connections. At a session this week during the Association of International Education Administrators conference, Britta Baron, who recently stepped down as vice provost for international at the University of Alberta, said her advisers begin talking about career building during new student orientation. “It’s our #1 focus from Day One,” she said.
Many international students want to stay in the U.S., at least temporarily, to get work experience, and there’s some sign that may be becoming more difficult. During the same AIEA session, Downing Thomas of the University of Iowa said that the percentage of employers who expect to hire his international graduates has been falling for three years.
Not long ago I was talking with Steve Tobocman, head of Global Detroit, a group that views international graduates and immigrants as key to revitalizing the city’s economy. He told me that employers had previously been enthusiastic about hiring foreign grads from area institutions – Michigan State and Wayne State universities and the University of Michigan – but that many now hesitate, worried that the Trump administration could put in place new work and visa policies:
“There’s general uncertainty about the way things might go that makes employers worry that hiring international students is a risky part of their talent strategy.”
Still, pinning international students’ employability problems on politics may be too simplistic. Canada, for example, makes it easy for international students to stay and work, and its immigration policy favors graduates of Canadian institutions. Yet, Britta Baron pointed me to a recent StatsCan study that found the lifetime earnings for international graduates of Canadian universities who remained in the country were lower than their Canadian counterparts’.
Years ago, I wrote a piece for the New York Times about colleges’ missteps in recruiting overseas. I called it (or my editors did) the China Conundrum. I worry that we could be facing a China Employability Conundrum.
Do you share my concerns? Or has your college developed good strategies for international career advising? Post it here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was great to catch up with many of you at the meeting. Thanks for the feedback on latitude(s) and thanks even more for the thoughtful and knowledgeable conversation. I came out of the conference with a notebook full of ideas, and I plan to follow up on many of the themes I heard. Look for more of that coverage here in the coming weeks. And it’s a reminder that the international-ed community makes the reporter. If you’ve got suggestions for coverage, let me know!
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that congressional investigators are looking into Confucius Institutes, asking colleges for detailed information about their agreements to host the Chinese government-funded language and culture institutes, which have been singled out as an example of China’s attempts to exercise influence on American campuses. To be honest, the details of the inquiry didn’t surprise me – given the tone in Washington, I assumed as much.
Instead, what grabbed me in the piece was this quote from Clayton Dube, head of the University of Southern California’s U.S.-China Center, on the effect of the broad-brush characterizations of Chinese students as spies on the students themselves:
“This kind of rhetoric ratchets up tension and nervousness among people...I have students from China saying: ‘My parents are asking if I’m being targeted. I’m not, and I’m not worried. But should I be?’”
Foreign Languages Fall-off
Troubling news from the Modern Language Association: American colleges shuttered 651 foreign-language programs during a three-year period following the recession.
The closures hit even the most popular foreign languages, Spanish and French. Of the 15 most commonly taught languages in the U.S., just three – Korean, biblical Hebrew, and American Sign Language – saw a net increase in the number of programs between 2013 and 2016.
Interestingly, the recession seems to have had a sort of lagging effect. During the height of the downturn, 2009 to 2013, the number of foreign-language programs actually held steady. However, enrollments in language courses began to fall sharply in that period, by 9 percent. Since 2009, the number of students studying a foreign language has declined 15 percent.
The impact of the enrollment declines may have been compounded by the recession, the Chronicle’s Steven Johnson said on the public-radio program On Point. When financial strains forced colleges to make cutbacks, foreign-language programs were an obvious target because their enrollments were already spiraling downward.
Why are language programs losing popularity? The trend runs counter to at least one other stat – the share of colleges with a foreign-language requirement ticked up slightly in 2016, to 46 percent, according to the American Council on Education.
I’m spitballing here, but I wonder if what’s going is that foreign languages are still seen (wrongly) as electives and as having little career relevance (also wrong). That might help explain why enrollments plummeted during the recession, as students became especially concerned about the value of their degree in landing a job.
If so, could part of the solution be to pair language study with a professionally-oriented major? The University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program is the gold standard for this approach – students take a foreign language, study and intern abroad, and ultimately earn two degrees, in engineering and in a language.
At the time I wrote about Rhode Island’s IEP, the university credited the program with increasing foreign language enrollments. But that was prior to the recession. Does your college have a similar joint-degree program? I’d be really curious to hear what impact it’s had on foreign-language enrollments and program closures. Leave a comment or tweet me @karinfischer.
And if you like latitude(s), give us a shout-out on Twitter, too!
Around the Globe
A professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City accused of exploiting graduate students for free labor resigned just a day before a final hearing on his fate at the university. What did the graduate students have in common? They were all from India and were concerned that they could be kicked out of the country or lose their visas if they didn’t comply with the professor’s demands. It’s an extreme case, but it highlights ways in which international students can be especially vulnerable.
Karin Fischer @karinfischerA tenured professor resigns amid accusations of exploiting grad students. It's worth noting that the students he's accused of targeting are international students who feared they would lose their visas if they didn't comply with his demands https://t.co/MZ3IA2JlnU
An administrator at Duke University who sent an email advising international graduate students only to speak English on campus has stepped down as director of graduate studies in biostatistics.
Political leaders can’t agree on a Brexit deal. But top British and German universities have issued a joint declaration pledging to continue to work together, no matter what happens between the UK and the European Union.
Closer to home, the U.S. Supreme Court again declined to hear a case on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that allows young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to avoid deportation and receive permits to work in the country. On Foxnews.com, Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, called the Court’s action a “gut-wrenching good news-bad news moment”: It keeps DACA alive but does little to end the uncertainty for nearly 700,000 Dreamers.
Just a third of adult immigrants to the United States have a college degree, a lower share than in other advanced economies, according to new findings from the Pew Research Center. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of immigrants to Canada and Australia age 25 and older are college-educated. The same Pew survey found that 8 in 10 Americans support high-skilled immigration.
I’ll admit it, the latter result surprised me. What did you think?
If you only have time to read one thing this week – besides this newsletter, of course – make it Eric Hoover’s feature on Nepali students, “A Long, Lonely Path.” When a Texas university abruptly revoked full-ride scholarships to a group of students from Nepal last spring, it made headlines. In this moving piece, Eric traces the hunger for education that drives students from one of Asia’s least-developed countries to chase an American degree – and an American dream.
For the best international education news and analysis, please subscribe to latitude(s). In this startup phase, I’ll be making the newsletter free; in the future, I’ll ask for a small fee to support quality journalism.