Dec 03, 2018


Reach Internationals While the Window is Open

Tom Knight writes about changes in international student enrollment and why college ministers should reach internationals while the window is open on campus.

The 2017/2018 stats from the International Institute of Education (IIE) are published, and there is no denying that new international enrollment is down for a second year. This year’s 6.6 percent drop follows last year’s 3 percent drop. The largest loss was from Saudi Arabia followed by Mexico and South Korea. The largest increase by percentage came from Brazil, Nepal, and Vietnam. China and India both had moderate growth with 3.6 and 5.4 percent respectively. The top five countries remain China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Canada. Fifty percent of all international students come from China and India.

Due to the popularity of Optional Practical Training, which allows students who have graduated to receive practical work experience, the overall international student total actually rose 1.5 percent to an all-time high. International students now make up 5.5 percent of U.S. higher education. But we need to ask ourselves will this decline continue as other countries vie for the “big business” of international student education. China is now the third largest receiver of international students, only surpassed by the United States and the U.K. Australia and Canada are also large receivers of international students.

American student involvement in study abroad also increased to an all-time high. While Europe still remains the region of choice, the greatest growth was in the Middle East and Asia regions. While we may primarily think of “mission trips” as a way to share our faith in other countries, being a student in study abroad is also a platform for missions. Are we encouraging and training students who study abroad to think “Christianly” about their time in a foreign country? Are we helping students have a global outlook from a Christian viewpoint?

Also, most international students arrive from the “10-30” window. This is not a geographic area, but an age demographic that is from 10 to 30 years in age. These students are often using English as they interact with a global community connected through the internet and social media. Eric Larsen and Jonathan Taylor of Global and Youth Ministries also point out that many people in this age demographic have more in common with a global youth culture than they do with their own parents and grand-parents. Also, this age demographic is one of the largest when seen from a global perspective. According to Taylor in 2010 over 50 percent of the world population was under the age of 25. There is so much that our American college students have in common with this global youth culture.

Though some people will see the two years of decline in new student enrollment as a sign that there will be a collapse of international students coming to the United States, I think we may be seeing a soft decline as international students have more choices. Either way, we can’t take this great opportunity for granted. We need to the harvest field that God has brought to our backyard’s and campuses.

Are we willing to meet that challenge?

Here are a few ideas for preparing to reach international students on your campus:

  • Pray for international students on your campus
  • Find out from the Office of International Students and Scholars the demographics of your campus
  • Plan to train your students on cross-cultural communication
  • Read a book on international student ministry (ISM)
  • If appropriate plan to have staff or student volunteers focused on ISM
  • Encourage American students to care for international students who are here as guests and don’t know our culture and context well
  • Realize that students from different cultures will have different questions about the Gospel
  • Encourage American students to consider study abroad as a way of expanding their awareness of global issues and cultures
  • Take enthusiastic students returning from mission trips and guide them into ISM
  • Plan an event on campus for international students
  • Invite international students to share a meal with your family or dormmates

What is your ministry’s next step in welcoming the nations to your campus community and sharing with them the hope of Christ?

about the author

Tom Knight

Tom is a collegiate strategist in North Carolina, specializing in international student work. He holds a law degree from Wake Forest and an Mdiv from Princeton. He is the author of No Passport Required: Collegiate Ministry as Global Missions.