International Students in the USA – Insights by Tarnjeet Kang

International Students in the USA - Insights by Tarnjeet Kang

Access to American higher education institutions has been challenging for international students, particularly those who originate from developing countries. Due to the visa, tuition and living costs, such opportunities are often more susceptible to recruiting the elite of other countries, inhibiting socioeconomic diversity in the recruitment of international students. A recent article from the Advisory noted the significant challenges that African students are facing abroad, particularly in India (Kang, 2017). These trends indicate that although universities are broadening their recruitment strategies, students that enroll in their programs continue to struggle with racism and cultural tensions, affordability and reliable access to funding, as well as the ability to maintain their cultures while studying abroad. Simply encouraging international students to enroll is not enough; holistic approaches to educating international students are critical to meet the needs of traditionally under-served groups.

In recent years, scholarships and funding programs have sought to make education more accessible to students facing significant barriers to higher education in Western countries – this includes undocumented students, migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and low-income students from developing countries. The introduction of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) to higher education systems in the United States has encouraged flagship public universities and Ivy League schools to initiate their online course programs. Websites such as edX, Coursera, and FutureLearn provide databases of online courses offered by a variety of universities, often free or available for certification at low costs. Additionally, many universities have introduced revenue-generating online programs to serve students that work full time or are not able to relocate to pursue educational opportunities.

Universities that have sought to make their educational services more accessible to students from other countries still face the challenge of providing culturally relevant and sensitive pedagogy. This often results from the flow of information, pedagogy, and resources in one direction, from Western universities to under-served groups. The lack of a reciprocal relationship means that students do not have avenues with sufficient leverage to inform the educational institutions and programs meant to serve them. As a result, unique needs, such as those experienced by low-income or refugee students, go unheeded.

One of the key limitations of such programs is that dependable and high-speed internet access may not be accessible or affordable for many students in developing countries. This creates a barrier for students that want to enroll in courses that require engagement, either through synchronous or asynchronous sessions or require access to academic literature from online databases to complete their coursework. This is particularly challenging for refugee and IDP students who not only rely on international NGOs and donors to access these types of opportunities but also face many displacements and volatile living situations.

Lastly, the curricula offered through these programs may be disconnected from the labor market demands of the students’ countries of origin. As a result, international students enrolled in either online or on-campus programs may face challenges in applying their skills and knowledge to the labor markets in which they are seeking employment. This is a relatively unexplored area of research, as the success of such education programs is predicated on enrollment and graduation rates, rather than post-graduation employment. Addressing this discrepancy is vital, not only to assist universities in achieving their mission through these programs but also in mitigating the lack of educational and employment opportunities in developing countries.

In recognizing these challenges, the Advisory seeks to provide programs and research services that advocate for the unique needs of international students, particularly those enrolled in online and on-campus educational programs in the United States, through consulting services and competitive internship programs. This includes creating culturally relevant pedagogy, strategies for improving accessibility based on locally available resources, and training programs to prepare students for labor markets outside of the United States.


Kang, T. (2017). Documenting an Untold Story: Migration and Cultural Dynamics between India and South Sudan. African Quarterly – Indian Journal of African Affairs 1(1) pg.19-25.

This is a guest article by Zambakari Advisory. Founded in 2015 by Dr. Christopher Zambakari, their mission is to provide consulting and advisory services that strengthen the goals of individuals, businesses, and organizations. By leveraging the knowledge and talents of local and international topical experts, the firm delivers incisive, invigorating, and tailored approaches that reflect the particular needs of our clients.


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