From 'Strivers' to 'Highfliers,' Report Explores Spectrum of Foreign Students

August 28, 2012

The number of international students has grown significantly in recent years, yet American universities could do more to sharpen their recruiting by developing a better understanding of the different populations seeking their degrees, says a new report.

The report, "Not All International Students Are the Same: Understanding Segments, Mapping Behavior," by World Education Services, a nonprofit group that evaluates international credentials, analyzes the educational aspirations, habits, and pocketbooks of prospective foreign students. It is based on a survey of almost 1,600 students in 115 countries who say they plan to study in the United States, and it classifies them into four categories based on their academic abilities and finances.

"Strivers" are well prepared academically for the rigors of American higher education, but their financial resources are low. Of the four groups they are most likely to seek financial aid. They also have the highest educational aspirations, with 67 percent saying they plan to attend a top American college.

"Strugglers" are poorly prepared academically and lack financial resources. This group often needs remedial help after enrolling, with 40 percent expecting to take English-language courses.

"Explorers" are poorly prepared in academic terms but have significant financial resources. They often put a high value on the "personal and experiential aspects" of college life and cite student services as an important factor in their decisions. The group is the most likely to attend a second-tier institution.

"Highfliers" are both academically prepared and financially well-off. These students seek an American education because of its prestige, being the most likely of the four to research the reputation of a college.

Of those surveyed, 30 percent were strivers; 25 percent, explorers; 24 percent, highfliers; and 21 percent, strugglers.

Understanding the trade-offs each group presents can help universities shape their recruitment strategies, the report says. Highfliers, for example, have the personal wealth to pay American tuition but are largely interested only in elite institutions, meaning second-tier colleges will have a hard time competing for them.

Understanding how the four groups are represented within different national populations is also key. Chinese students are most likely to be highfliers, signaling the economic growth in the country, while in India, applicants are most likely to be strivers.

The survey also asked about the use of agents. In all, one in six respondents said they had hired an agent, with explorers the most likely group to do so.