As the thunder roared over New Orleans, I found myself immersed in a sea of colleagues, old and new, at the 2024 NAFSA conference. With approximately 7,000 attendees, the sheer scale of this gathering was awe-inspiring. Despite the disruptions caused by extreme weather conditions in the region, the energy was palpable. For those who had hours of unexpected delays on the tarmac or terminal, I found Flight Aware’s Misery Map to be an engaging way to commiserate, which reported a staggering 13,500+ flight delays within, into, or out of the United States over the weekend after the conference alone. Nevertheless, partners from every corner of the globe converged to share ideas, forge connections, and shape the future of international education. 

The conference theme—resilience, renewal, and community—pulsated through the sessions and conversations. We celebrated our collective ability to adapt, to find strength in adversity, and to renew our commitment to fostering global understanding. In the face of challenges, we stood together, united by our shared purpose.

SDSU Global Campus Dean Ian Gibson

SDSU Global Campus Dean Ian Gibson

Recruitment Insights

The recruiting landscape is highly dynamic with a few clear trends emerging. Graduate programs are seeing significant increases in student mobility, with Optional Practical Training (OPT) showing moderate growth. Undergraduate and non-degree programs, however, remain relatively flat. Although the United States continues to be a premier destination for international students, it is continuing to gradually lose market share to other global education hubs.

Many of our European recruitment partners assisting students in finding programs in the US are encountering considerable challenges. Financial constraints, political complexities, and the lingering effects of recent years’ heightened exchanges between European partner institutions are complicating the environment. 

Despite these obstacles, the desire among institutions to forge new ties with US counterparts remains robust. This extends beyond student exchanges, encompassing faculty exchange programs, research collaborations, and joint degrees. This shift underscores a growing appetite for innovative educational modalities. To that end, I see a new wave of interest and innovation of the concept of Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) coming in the near future.

Unsurprisingly, the prevailing sentiment is that social media is the most effective channel for reaching the next generation of learners. Authentic experiences shared by current students on these platforms have a much greater gravitas than the traditional variety of slick promotional materials featuring stock photos.

Demand for Innovative Short Term English Language Programs

English language programs have faced numerous challenges in recent years, but the trend is now shifting positively as enrollment in Intensive English Programs again shows significant year-on-year growth. Despite past disruptions, Japan remains the leading source of students and California continues to be a favored destination.

The rising demand for shorter-term study programs among international students has prompted universities to actively explore and develop this segment. During the conference, many partners expressed interest in innovative strategies to effectively address this growing demand. A notable trend is the decline in full-time programs, countered by the steady rise in part-time programs that do not require student visas. Meanwhile, our Chinese partners report a decrease in demand for English Language programs, largely due to institutions lowering their English proficiency requirements.

As educators, it is crucial to remain adaptable and responsive to these evolving student needs, ensuring we continue to provide relevant and accessible educational opportunities.

Forging New Bonds: The Appetite for Relationships

As we look ahead to NAFSA 2025 in San Diego—a uniquely bi-national region with a high concentration of exceptional universities—we anticipate vibrant discussions and new connections. International education remains an exciting and ever-changing arena, full of potential for growth and innovation. For those of us who are nimble and strategic, the possibilities are limitless. 

I look forward to continuing this journey with all of you, as we work together to create a brighter future for students around the world.

With gratitude and anticipation,

Ian Gibson, J.D.


Global Campus

San Diego State University