Don’t Give up, Keep at it! 7 Steps for US HEIs to remain competitive in International Education

December 13th, 2019


The reports are coming in, and they each speak of declines in the number of international students at U.S. institutions of higher education (HEIs). Panic has set in and decisions based on panic never turn out to be sound or prudent. They are short sighted and cause more damage than good. Panic prompts HEIs to retrench, which leads to laying off staff in international admissions and cutting back on student recruitment. The drop in international student numbers shows itself quickly with a decline in dollars generated from tuition and fees which prompt universities to slash their budgets, cut back on staffing that translate to reduced course offerings and less seats available for prospective domestic students. People forget that the tuition from international students help subsidize a large portion of the infrastructure of institutions, supporting more courses and faculty and more seats available to domestic students. International students also help by participating in the general economy, they are, after all, consumers just like you and me and besides paying their college tuition, they are also spending dollars in the local community.

No matter who or what political party is in power, we forget that the U.S. economy hinges on the global market and our global competitiveness is in trouble, which includes our competitiveness in the international student market. Combining the number of international students in the US government’s net migration target is a flawed policy. We have and continue to have a political environment laden with extreme political opinions where one group is adamantly pro and another passionately against internationalization. Neither point of view is accurate since extremes in any which way tend to be flawed and too simplistic on how the domestic and global market are intertwined and function together as a unit and not separately. The more we remain engaged globally the more we can encourage the coming together of people, ideas and innovations, that will help us better address the challenges that face us.

When the political climate insinuates that internationalization is bad, it trickles down to all sectors of the economy and community, and those of us in international education feel its immediate effects on our campuses and in periphery services supporting our HEIs. Suddenly, there is a dis-ease within the international student community about coming to the US to study. They fear for their safety, they anticipate difficulties in obtaining a student visa and express concern about how they will be treated on arrival at a U.S. airport by customs and immigration officers and by their peers on the university campuses. We have, unfortunately, not been sending a warm welcoming message to the world in this past year and it is resonating loudly and clearly around the globe.

Say what we want, but we live in a competitive world, and when it comes to international education, the U.S. HEIs are competitive to the extent that they remain in the field. Rather than retreating, U.S. HEIs must stay in the game and compete successfully with their counterparts in UK, Canada, Australia, and emerging markets such as China and India. In fact, this is exactly the time for HEIs to collectively work on maintaining a robust marketing and promotion campaign to counter the negative perceptions about international education and students by dispelling myths that deter students from wanting to study in the U.S.

What must US HEI’s do?

1. Intellectual Contribution: Reinforce and Raise Awareness

In an article in The Times Higher Education, Dame Nemat Minouche Shafik, Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science states: “…we need to reinforce, raise awareness of and spread the well-established principles that govern what constitutes a valid intellectual contribution. Practices such as peer review, competitive process for funding research, requirements to publish data, and transparency about conflicts of interest are fundamental to academic life. Most people are unaware of these practices, which are the bedrocks of academic quality and progress – we need to spread the practices to other domains such as think tanks and the media.” These are the hallmarks of U.S. higher education and US HEIs need to carefully craft the language that expresses and conveys this to the public without sounding elitist or academic.

2. Messaging

Which brings us to messaging. Where we seem to have faltered is in our messaging and doing a so-so job at communicating without sounding self-serving. We need to turn things around and emphasize the benefits brought to the community and country by international education and students. We need to use the Internet and social media platforms effectively and share personal stories and progresses in research in a language that is approachable and inclusive, one that will draw in the very camp that is opposed to internationalization. In the same report in the Times Higher Education, Dame Shafik suggests one way to accomplish effective messaging is by “working with thoughtful and effective storytellers to reach a wider public – consider, for example, Sir David Attenborough’s work to raise awareness of the environment or Michael Lewis on the risks inherent in financial markets.” Here are a few suggestions to incorporate in our individual and collective messaging on the unique benefits of international students and scholars:

  • Promotes U.S. foreign policy and international leadership
  • Helps the growth of U.S. knowledge economy
  • Spending by the international students and their dependents contributes significantly to the U.S. economy (approximately $13.5 billion)
  • Education exchange is benefits U.S. education as much as it does the international students
  • Education exchanges enhances and ensures U.S. security

3. Tools to Train an Informed Citizenry

While we craft the messaging to the world outside our campuses, our work as educators means that we must also commit to teaching and training our domestic students to become more discerning citizens. We need to teach them the tools they need that will instill in them an appreciation to be critical thinkers, learn how to distinguish propaganda and disinformation from facts so they are better prepared to engage and debate as informed citizens. Our domestic students will serve as our campus ambassadors and who better than they to welcome the international students.

4. Promote Healthy Debate

From teaching and training students to be critical thinkers, we segue to what is deemed as challenging by most and that is creating a space that respects different opinions and allowing both sides to debate and share their points of view, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. Absence of this neutral zone for public debate hinders any progress we would like to see in raising awareness on the importance and benefits of institutions of higher education. By allowing and fostering healthy debate on our campuses, we can help broaden the minds of our domestic students who may have a narrow opinion on what it is to be an international student.

5. Promote Diversity and Foster Inclusion

Whether it is our intellectual contributions, messaging, training and informed citizenry, and promoting healthy debate, one thing we cannot and should not forget is that the USA is not a homogenized nation but one that is uniquely diverse whose citizens have ancestry representative of every country on the planet. Simply put, what makes the USA unique is the sheer magnitude of its diversity of people. In fact, this diversity must and should be front and center in our conversation with potential international students. It is this diversity that sets the US apart and we should embrace and promote it.

6. Support Study Abroad

Promoting internationalization on our campuses, is a two-way street. At the risk of sounding repetitive, since this message has been expressed before by others, our HEIs need to demonstrate their commitment by being global leaders in higher education by having in place a robust study abroad program and encourage and support study abroad opportunities for their domestic students, and preferably to countries where learning a foreign language is a prerequisite. This experience will foster a camaraderie and mutual understanding between a returning domestic student from studying abroad and a fellow international student at his/her home campus.

7. Don’t Abandon the Marketing Plan

At the sight of trouble, or a downturn in economy, businesses tend to quickly react and slash their marketing budgeting. HEIs do the same, they cut back on recruitment, outreach, and promotion of their programs overseas. Rather than putting marketing on an indefinite hold, a plan needs to be thoughtfully put into place as to how to keep the messaging alive and robust. The first sign of retreat and defeat is to slam on the marketing brakes when the economy is slowing down. We need to keep the messaging consistent, clear and loud.

If we are not careful and let panic set in, the years of work that have made the US an attractive destination for education for students from around the world will be lost and regaining that competitive edge will take a very long time to recover.

HEIs needs to demonstrate the benefits of international education and international students and their value to the community and US economy. HEIs must not simply accept the current dictates set by government as a given. Rather than retrench and retreat, we need to push on and keep at it!

Is your institution experiencing a decline in the number of international student applications? Please share with us what steps your institution has taken or is taking to address this issue.


Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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10 Quick Takeaways from the 2019 PISA Survey

December 6th, 2019


The latest scores from PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday, December 3, 2019. The PISA survey is carried out every three years by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and this time it was among its 37 member states and 42 partner countries and economies. The latest PISA study was based on two-hour tests taken by 600,000 15-year-olds last year.

PISA’s overreliance on standardized test is seen by some as flawed as demonstrated by a call for a moratorium on PISA by more than 100 academics from around the world. On the other hand, the OECD which sponsors PISA and its supporters stand in defense of the test and regard it as a comprehensive and reliable indicator on how students around the world are doing and performing. Nevertheless, the results are worth reviewing.

For this week’s blog, we’ve prepared a quick summary of the latest PISA survey:

  1. U.S. students ranked eighth in reading, 11th in science and 30th in math. (Note: In the United States, a demographically representative sample of 4,800 students from 215 schools took the test.)
  2. China ranked first in science, reading, and math (Note: PISA survey only considered 4 of more than 20 provinces in China that included Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.)
  3. Singapore ranked second in science, reading, and math.
  4. Macau, Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland outperformed the US.
  5. The United Kingdom, Japan and Australia performed similarly to the United States.
  6. 15-year-olds in Germany and the US perform better in mathematics than students in Peru or Indonesia. (Note: Per capita income in Peru and Indonesia is less than that in Germany and US.)
  7. Colombia, Peru and Portugal were among the countries that demonstrated improvement on the test.
  8. 3% of American children from poor families were top performers in reading, compared with an average of 4% of poor children among O.E.C.D. countries.
  9. The report showed that fewer than one in 10 students surveyed in the OECD countries could distinguish between fact and opinion, based on implicit cues pertaining to the content or source of the information.
  10. The only areas in which more than one in seven students demonstrated the ability to distinguish fact from opinion were the four parts of China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang), Canada, Estonia, Finland, Singapore and the United States.

Below is the performance ranking for reading (OECD average is 487)

Source: OECD

Below is the performance ranking for mathematics (OECD average is 489)

Source: OECD

Below is the performance ranking for science (OECD average is 489)

Source: OECD


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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit

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“Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.”
Jacques Maritain

From all of us at Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), we want to wish everyone a happy and festive Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends. We hope your day is filled with love, laughter, and gratitude.

We are thankful for all of you.

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit

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International Students Enrollment Numbers Drop

November 22nd, 2019


On Monday, November 18, 2019, the Institute of International Education (IIE) released the latest 2019 Open Doors report confirming that international student enrolment in the US is steadily declining. The annual Open Doors report is compiled jointly by the IIE and the US State Department.

In this week’s blog we will offer a quick summary of the outcomes of this report.

  1. For the 2018-2019 school among 19,828,000 total students in institutions of higher education in the U.S.,1,095,299 were international students which is 5.5% of all college and university students in the U.S.
  2. According to VOA new: The numbers showed a slight increase in total international enrolment, 0.05 percent from the previous year, but a decrease in new international student enrolment, -0.9 percent.
  3. The Open Doors Report shows decreases in undergraduate (-2.4%), graduate (-1.3%) and non-degree (-0.5%) enrollments.

Subsequent news reports reacting to the 2019 Open Doors cite the following as reasons for the declining numbers of international student enrollments:

  1. Negative perception of President Donald Trump and the growing negative rhetoric regarding international visitors, immigrants, and non-U.S. citizens.
  2. International students concern about gun violence and their safety on U.S. college campuses and cities at large.
  3. Sharp rise in value of S. dollar in 2015 and 2016.
  4. Saudi Arabia’s decision in 2016 to cut back on its scholarship impacted the number of Saudi students coming to study in the U.S.
  5. According to an OpEd by Justin Fox in Bloomberg, “public universities in the U.S. aren’t quite as desperate for full-tuition-paying international students as they were a few years ago, with state per-student spendingup 15% in real terms since 2012-2013.”
  6. S. higher education faces fierce competition from Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom when it comes to attracting international students. Lower tuition and safety make these countries a more attractive option.

According to estimates from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the continued decline in international student enrollment since the fall of 2016 has cost the US economy $11.8 billion and more than 65,000 jobs.

Can the U.S. reverse this tide? Can it reclaim its #1 ranking as the destination for international students and regain its dominance? If so, how?

Helpful links:

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit

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5 Facts on Hong Kong Protests and their Impact on its Education System

November 15th, 2019

Photo credit: Nora Tam

The anti-government protests continue for the 24th week in Hong Kong. The protesters–many young high school and university students–have dug in at several university campuses across Hong Kong. The latest epicenter of the protests was the Chinese University of Hong Kong which this past Tuesday evening became the site of violent clashes between police and the protesters. Tensions continue to run high and the confrontations between protesters and police have turned violent.

The unrest in Hong Kong was triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have enabled the transfer of fugitives to mainland China. The movement, as reported by Hong Kong Free Press, “has evolved into wider calls for democratic reform and accountability for the police handling of the crisis.”

Here are a few facts on the impact the protests are having on the schools and universities in Hong Kong:

  1. Hong Kong’s Education Bureau announced that all schools would shut on Thursday, November 14th. This means the suspension of kindergarten, primary and secondary school classes citing safety concerns arising from the city’s three consecutive days of unrest. Source
  2.  Most of the city’s universities and other higher educational institutions also announced there would be no classes on Thursday, November 14th. At least 10 have suspended classes the rest of the week. Source
  3.  The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Baptist University (BU) had cancelled all on-campus lessons. Several universities had announced they would be introducing online learning and other assessment methods for the remaining weeks of the term. Source
  4. Some exchange students are being advised to leave Hong Kong as the protests continue. Norway and Denmark, for example, have advised their students to return home. Source
  5. A group of students from Mainland China were helped by Hong Kong police to leave their campus after it was barricaded by demonstrators. Many are taking advantage of a program that offers them a week of free accommodation in hotels and hostels in the neighboring city of Shenzhen. Source

This is an on-going crisis in Hong Kong and ACEI-Global will include updates as they become available. Please follow us on Facebook for continued updates on Hong Kong and education news from around the world.


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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit

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November 8th, 2019


In my last post on White Privilege I ended my piece with a quote from Trevor Noah, who in his Netflix show, Son of Patricia said, “There should be a rule in America. You can hate immigrants all you want but if you do, you don’t get to eat their food.”

That line, in its simplicity, gets to the point of the question of “why diversity”? Why is it so important that schools are hiring directors and consultants to help them diversify? Is it imperative that our education system introduce cultural differences as a way to break down barriers – a.k.a. bringing about world peace? Or do these unique attributes enkindle students’ intellectual, moral and social growth thus making them better, more interesting people? Or is it just that there’s no getting around diversity?

I’ve been watching and re-watching the Playing for Change remake of The Weight. It too, very simply demonstrates the value in diversity. The ukulele played often in Hawaii, originated in Portugal. The congo drum is Afro-Cuban. The oud is originally Persian. Maybe you prefer the original version. It is pretty great, but I prefer the richness of the latest version with the various riffs from people all over the world.

Maybe music and food aren’t your thing. You’re more of a sports fan. In an article by James C. Witte and Marissa Kiss writing for The Institute for Immigration Research, on Predicting the Outcome of the 2019 MLB All Star Games they conclude “so with this year’s game coming on July 9th, die-hard fans, inquiring minds and hopeful gamblers want to know who will win: the National League or the American League? Our answer? The team that plays the greatest percentage of foreign-born players.”

Their findings are based on statistics.

Let’s put aside the many wonderful flavors and sounds that enrich the U.S., so many brought here from other countries. There is no getting around diversity in most of America these days. According to the Migration Policy Institute as of 2017, 44.5 million immigrants resided in the U.S. 14 % of the nation’s population are not from America. These statistics are increasing annually. And it’s not only in the U.S. According to a report (Gurria, 2018) from the European Association for International Education (EAIE), one in ten children in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with 36 member countries, are foreign-born.

Instead of being frightened by these statistics can we be intrigued by the scents, the sounds, the visual effects and stimulation that those varied and colorful cultures bring us? Imagine the stories these people have to share. Think of friends who have traveled and the tales they have told. Sometimes they make us scratch our heads. Sometimes they make us laugh at their absurdity. But they mostly intrigue us and compel us to get out and see more of the world.

In an article in Diverse Magazine (Elfman, 2019) Dr. Alyssa N. Rockenbach whose project, Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) reports that “having a diverse peer group enables college students to understand and appreciate other cultures and reduces prejudice,” a.k.a. world peace. This seems obvious to me and I could never really grasp how it wasn’t obvious to everyone until, in one of my classes at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell when we first experienced diversity. Most students talked about the first time they went abroad or when a study abroad student came to their school. My first experience was the opposite. It happened when I left my home in Cambridge, MA for college in San Diego, CA. My college campus was so white. There were a few black students and two Iranians but that’s all I can recall of diversity. Not only did that help me appreciate the richness of cultures I’d grown up with, but it made me an open-minded person, excited to break down barriers of exclusion so that my friends could also know the excitement that comes with experiencing another’s culture.

That said, it isn’t obvious to everyone which I was reminded of while listening to an episode of Safe Space Radio. The podcast Can We Talk: Talking to White Kids About Race and Racism is led by two mothers, one black and the other white. The black mother explained why it was so hard to talk to white children about race. “My job is to protect you (her children) out there and the white parent’s job is to create a bubble to keep their kids safe.” If we’re not purposeful in bringing our children together are we causing more harm, actually sowing division? We need to consciously decide to break down barriers by creating a culture of diversity and not just between black and white families, but that’s a good start here in the states.

I will always love the idea of and work towards world peace, but what I really want to relay is how much richer our children’s education will be when schools consciously make an effort to diversify. That comes in the form of teachers and staff, curriculum and the students themselves. Children are born eager to learn. It’s inherent and it’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, and schools to encourage the full range of exploration that includes not only thought and intellectual stimulation but what culture brings. So why diversify? Does it matter if we do so because the world is just going that way or should we bring more intention to it in order to reap the benefits of variety in tastes, sounds and sights? Mmmm. Suddenly, I‘m craving my nana’s lasagna and some Italian opera.

Encompassing All Voices Diversity and Inclusion: a strategic issue for European universities, Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik p 5 (Gurria 2018)

Suggested Readings:
This Land is Our Land: An Immigrants Manifesto – Suketu Mehta
WHY ARE ALL THE BLACK KIDS SITTING TOGETHER IN THE CAFETERIA And Other Conversations About Race – Beverly Daniel Tatum, PHD


Kathleen Hylen, M.A. International Education Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Graduated with honors from UC, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Community Studies, focus on anti-bias. Kathleen is also a member of ACEI’s Professional Consultancy Team. Her focus is on helping institutions and organizations develop and/or bolster their diversity and inclusion strategies.

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What is Transnational Education?

November 1st, 2019


We have been hearing the term “transnational education” used when referring to distance learning programs, teaching partnerships, off-shore campuses, and MOOCs. And we can be sure that with the global demand for higher education overpowering supply, transnational education will continue to grow and assume permanency in our lexicon.

Although there are many definitions and interpretations, the definition provided by the UNESCO/Council of Europe Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Transnational Education (Riga, 6 June 2001), states “all types of higher education study programmes, or sets of courses of study, or educational services (including those of distance education) in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based”.

Transnational Education may include any one of these arrangements:

  • Articulation
  • Course-to-Course Credit Transfer
  • Branch Campus
  • Franchising
  • Joint Degree
  • Dual Degree
  • Distance Delivery
  • Progression Agreement or Sequential Degrees
  • Degree Validation

If your institution is exploring engaging in any one of the above-mentioned arrangements, there are a number of informative papers and articles on the subject. Rather, than repeat the same information and guidelines, below is a list of a few reports with links you may find useful to visit.


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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit

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