Allan Goodman, CEO of the Institute of International Education, will deliver keynote remarks during an upcoming Lehigh University event on April 10

On April 10, Lehigh University will host one the country’s foremost experts on international education, who will participate in a one-day symposium about the importance of increasing the enrollment of international students and scholars in Pennsylvania higher education institutions.

A portrait photo of Allan Goodman, wearing glasses and suit, smiling for the camera
Allan Goodman

Allan Goodman, CEO of the Institute of International Education (IIE), will deliver keynote remarks at the event, which is entitled “Recruiting International Students and Scholars for Pennsylvania Higher Education: A Strategy for Economic Competitiveness and Innovation.” The symposium is free to attend, but pre-registration is required.

IIE is a global not-for-profit organization that creates and implements international education programs, conducts research, and provides life-changing opportunities for students and scholars worldwide. The organization also produces Open Doors, a comprehensive information resource on international students and scholars. Goodman has served as CEO of IIE since 1998.

In this interview with Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs ahead of the event, Goodman discussed IIE’s projections that the number of international students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities could grow to 2 million by 2030, as well as the positive economic impact that growth could have in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.

Goodman also highlighted the specific factors that could lead to that enrollment growth, including available capacity at U.S. institutions that are lacking in other countries, as well as the projected growth of the 18- to 24-year-old populations in places like South Asia, South America, and Africa.

Are you looking forward to visiting Lehigh University for this event?

I certainly am. Early in my presidency, Lehigh was one of the first universities I visited, and I was so impressed. Lehigh was very different than I was expecting, and it really underscored how important it is to get out of the bubble of New York or Washington, and to see education as it's taking place outside of places like New York, Boston, in California.

I didn't realize it, but my father-in-law worked for many years at Bethlehem Steel. So I’m very fond of the Lehigh Valley, and Lehigh University has built a really terrific global office and international strategy, which really put Lehigh on the map for me. So I'm very grateful to Lehigh; even though I didn't go to Lehigh, I envy those who do.

Why is this event topic of recruiting international students to Pennsylvania higher education so important?

What Cheryl Matherly (Vice President and Vice Provost for International Affairs at Lehigh) has organized here is really a bit of a big deal, because it's a chance to get a very large number of public and private institutions that have a stake together and on the same page, which is that international students and international education are important to each and every one of the institutions. Even though every institution is different, with different sizes, different funding structures, and different governance.

In my business, you often have to go door-to-door, campus-to-campus, to stress the importance of international education and the dynamics of what's going on. This is almost a singular opportunity to talk to many of the important Pennsylvania schools all at once. And Pennsylvania itself is a pretty important state: it's the fourth most sought after state destination for international students in our country, behind Massachusetts, California, and New York.

You have nearly 50,000 international students in the state in the 2023 Open Doors census. That's a big number. They spent over $2 billion on tuition, room and board, and books. Spending in local communities. That's a pretty big number; it’s probably more than the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Pittsburgh Pirates generate for their locality. And what I love about this Lehigh event is that it’s not only going to be the schools talking to each other, but people from the state and congressional delegation offices, because the state is from the governor's office. Because the state is making a plan for Pennsylvania that includes the world.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s economic development plan includes a focus on innovation centers and industry sectors for which international students will be very important, as those students tend to drive cutting edge research and development, and fill job openings in STEM fields.

That’s right. You have about 1,000 international students at Lehigh University. Imagine what your research and job prospects would be if you had 2,000? Because the state needs them, and there's a pathway for them to graduate into practical training and into jobs in technology and research.

When I started as President, you had to make the case for international education by emphasizing the cultural diplomacy that creates better understanding between people of our country and people of other countries, and that the fact that it’s part of our culture and our history. We never used to use the J word: “jobs.” But with the new century, it's so important to have the critical skills and the pipeline of talent.

And it's not like this is brain drain from other countries, because there are also jobs in their countries for students that go back home. But it's more critical than ever before for states, cities, and regions to have access to the brain power that is going to make the future of the communities, the industries, and the innovations. And the best place to start innovation – the best incubator – are universities, and international students are a big part of that.

One of the things Pennsylvania really has going for it is you have a governor and a state that wants migration and international people with these skills. Not every state is saying that or doing that, but between Lehigh’s strategic plan and the governor’s plan, this is a conjunction of really positive factors that’s not true everywhere else in the United States.

IIE has projected that the number of international students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities could grow substantially over the next six years.

We believe that the population of international students by 2030 will be 2 million. We could be wrong, and that's why we're going to do our IIE Outlook report every year, to track the numbers and the slope of the growth curve; to see where the growth is coming from and the percentage increases. But given a number of factors – our capacity in the U.S. for international students that other countries lack, as well as changes in global demographics – these dynamics make the picture realistic to me that we will reach 2 million by 2030.

Can you speak more about the capacity in the United States for more international students?

IIE was founded in 1919, right in the middle of the Spanish influenza, and COVID-19 is the 12th pandemic we’ve lived through. After the other 11 pandemics, international student enrollment would be flat for a while, and in the first year after the pandemic was declared over, it would go up 1% or 2%, then after a while reach a steady 3%.

That has been the historical pattern for 100 years, but not after COVID-19. We’ve never seen increases like the 12% and 8% that we’ve seen in the past two years since the pandemic has been declared controlled. So we were interested to know: if this pattern is different, what else is different about the world to make the increases much stronger and more sustainable than after every other pandemic?

So we start with the response to COVID-19 and the rebound.Look at the playing field, competitors of other countries that are popular destinations for international students like England, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany. Their proportion of international student enrollment is around 25% and 30%, while we’re at 5%. However, we’re seeing now that Canada has cut in half the international students they’re going to take because of backlash from politics and housing shortages. The same is true in the UK and France.

All of these competitor countries are approaching their capacity, but we don’t have those capacity shortages. We could probably accommodate about 30%, but again, we’re only at 5%. Also, those other countries only have a couple hundred universities; we have 4,000. We have so much more room. We don't have to build new buildings or new dorms; in fact, we’re going to need people to fill the dorms, because U.S. enrollment in 2025 is expected to be down another two million. We don't need to build libraries or train teachers.

We have all that at a time when the rest of the world is going to run out of capacity because they just don’t have the space.

You also mentioned global demographic changes?

There’s also the fact that we're going to see an explosion of college-ready students in the global south – from places like South Asia, South America, and Africa – that we've never seen before. There is a demographic shift in the 18- to 24-year-old population in those places that is so enormous, their home institutions can't fit the students. There's not time to build them, and there's not enough teachers to be trained.

So suddenly, we're going to have students not only from India, from from places like Nigeria and Brazil who are going to be looking for places to study, at a time when the rest of the world is getting out of capacity. And we may be the only country that has the numbers and the need. So it's a very unusual situation.

I think it’s great that Lehigh’s strategic plan is called Inspiring the Future Makers, because that focus on future makers indicates your future graduates are going to be world ready. The Lehigh Valley is ready to bring the world to Lehigh, and to bring Lehigh to the world. That's a pretty big deal. Lehigh and Pennsylvania have an awful lot to offer the world.