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ASU the No. 1 public university chosen by international students

Students smile and talk outside
November 15, 2021
Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2021 year in review.

Amidst a challenging year for global education, Arizona State University tops all public universities on influential Institute of International Education rankings.

ASU is ranked the top public university of choice for international students, according to the 2021 Institute of International Education Open Doors Report, a recognized global leader on the impact that international education has on higher education. 

During the 2020–21 academic year, ASU was home to more than 13,015 international students from more than 136 countries enrolled on an ASU campus. This community of international students places ASU as the No. 1 public university for hosting international students — ahead of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of California, San Diego; Purdue University; and UCLA, among others. 

As the top public university in the nation for international students, ASU’s enrollment of international students also places the university in the top five nationally, behind only private universities including New York University, Northeastern University, Columbia University and University of Southern California, ranked first through fourth, respectively.

“The entire ASU community is committed to maintaining our reputation as being a welcoming home away from home for students from around the world,” said Kent Hopkins, vice president of Academic Enterprise Enrollment. “As we continue to navigate a world impacted by a global pandemic, our international admission services and student engagement strategies have evolved to ensure that students can continue toward their goal of studying at Arizona State University regardless of the challenges facing them.”

A contributing factor to the No. 1 ranking are the flexible policies ASU put in place to help international students stay enrolled at ASU throughout the 2020–21 academic year, including creating innovative ways for students to take classes no matter their location.

“Providing a rich academic experience that is accessible to all has been at the heart of the ASU charter for more than a decade,” said Nancy Gonzales, executive vice president and university provost. “In the midst of international travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic, this commitment took on new meaning as we designed solutions, including ASU Sync, which enabled students to access the ASU classroom and campus experience from anywhere in the world.”

Hopkins said, “Some of our students simply could not travel to ASU. During the last academic year, we had many students who took their entire first semester or year from their home country via ASU Sync. It was incredibly important for us to help them keep on track without losing any progress toward their degree, and once access to student visas opened up, they needed to be welcomed to their new university home. At our international student welcome event on Aug. 15 in Gammage Auditorium, more than 2,000 international students came to celebrate an in-person semester at ASU.”

One such student who studied at ASU from their home country in the 2020–21 academic year was Palak Rawat, an accountancy and finance major from Dehradun, India. 

“I did my spring semester remotely from my home country during COVID-19. Though I was a little anxious in the beginning to return to completely in-person classes, I was far more excited to be back for in-person lectures, walk around campus and be back with friends. The transition went quite smoothly for me, and the university made it very comfortable for students to readjust to campus life. ASU staff has been very supportive in making sure that international students were able to be back in the U.S. in time for the start of the semester. I felt that ASU did a great job in creating a sense of community for students which made us feel motivated and engaged on campus.”

Efforts like these helped the enrollment of ASU’s international student body stabilize in fall 2020, while national trends saw international student enrollment plummet. And in fall 2021, new student enrollment of international students rebounded as travel restrictions eased. ASU saw a 9.5% increase from fall 2020 in international first-year students (727 students enrolled versus 664) on its four metro Phoenix campuses. Similarly, graduate student enrollment on those campuses surged by more than 200% with 2,591 graduate students enrolled versus the 850 enrolled in fall 2020.

Maria Missiego is a graduate student in ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management. She completed an undergraduate degree at Thunderbird and is now completing her master’s degree in a 4+1 program. 

"I realized there is much more beyond the physical borders where we grew up,” said Missiego, who is from Lima, Peru. “Being part of a diverse community of students and staff allows me to learn and appreciate other cultures and develop intercultural empathy. At Thunderbird, our differences are what make us unique and what brings us together."

The Institute of International Education report also counts recent alumni participating in Optional Practical Training in its rankings. OPT is a program that allows recent graduates on F-1 visas to extend their stay in the United States by one year to participate in a career-relevant employment that enriches their academic experience. 

For the 2021 Open Door Report, OPT students contributed to ASU’s ranking as a top public university. ASU saw a near 10% increase in OPT participants in fall 2020 (5,264 alumni) compared with fall 2019, when 4,796 recent alumni participated. 

“OPT is a critical component of the international student experience at ASU. Successful employability is a key ingredient in building up a student's credentials with global employers,” said Holly Singh, assistant vice president of the International Students and Scholars Center. “As travel out of the U.S. was also restricted during the pandemic, our team made it a priority to help our recent ASU graduates find the professional opportunities they needed to keep them working toward their goals, even if they could not travel back to their home countries.”

Kaiying Huang, an art major from China, praised ASU's approach.

“As an international student, I feel welcomed and valued,” Huang said. “ASU cares about students’ academic success and college life. In addition to helping international students maintain their legal status in the United States, the International Students and Scholars Center provided me workshops to learn more resources, American culture, and enthusiastically help international students like me cope with any difficult situations that have come up in these challenging times.”

Top photo: International students (from left) Bharat Goel, Bijayalaxmi Panda and Sarthak Tiwari hang out on the Polytechnic campus in 2019. Photo by FJ Gaylor

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