How are one million international students studying in U.S. coping post-election?

Based on a national online chat I just participated in conducted by NAFSA: Association of International Educators (, it’s safe to say that fear and confusion dominates daily life for many of the one million international students studying in the U.S.  And this is placing a great burden upon the student affairs staff, those international student advisors who are responsible for their welfare, since the election.

I’m leaving behind, for this one moment, the focus of my blog…I’ve been waiting to find the right “voice” after 11-8.  This telephone chat may have uncorked my thinking.

There seems to be an effort by commentators in print and on TV, and among campus administrators, to try to calm things down by saying something like this: “We really cannot predict or know for sure, how Mr. Trump and his administration will act on those most outlandish statements he made during the primary season.  That was then; it was rhetoric to gin up his “base.”  But, now that he has won, we need to calm down and wait & see how his rhetoric will be changed by the reality of actually governing the nation.”

I must say that I’m not at all feeling calmer when thinking this way.

His first picks for senior cabinet posts include a man accused of being a racist for Attorney General; a military officer to run the NSA who spoke out using inflammatory language during the campaign and who was drummed out of the Pentagon for poor management; a fellow named Bannon who prides himself on being a “nationalist” (but not a radical white nationalist)…And so there you have it as of 11-18; 10 days after election day. Gosh, are we feeling better yet?  And wait until his Supreme Court nominee tips the scale to over-turn Roe v. Wade. And what about the climate change denier whom he selected to head up EPA?

This is only the beginning –how will those 4,000 lower level federal appointees manage their offices?  Change the focus of enforcement?  Challenge policy norms of the past eight years?

How are families thinking of sending their sons and daughters to study here reacting to the new political culture they see emerging in the U.S.? What questions will be asked of students going abroad for study or internships?

Today, a column appeared in “Inside Higher Education,” stating that 110 college presidents issued a letter to Mr. Trump “urging him to speak out against harassment and hate.” Only 110?  We have over 4,000 campuses in our 50 states!  And only 110 leaders signed off on this letter?

We need to gear up to push back and fight against the intolerance which has been unleashed by Trump and his campaign surrogates. It seems to me to be spreading like an untreated infection on your skin. We cannot walk quietly into the darkness of this new political day.  We cannot “normalize” what has been said by thinking somehow it will go away once the Trumpeters start governing and realize how complicated it is to run our government and conduct foreign affairs.

So I hope thousands of college and university presidents find the courage of their convictions and speak out. I hope we hear the voices of international students who are fearful, who are being harassed or made to feel unwelcome.  We need our local campus communities to step up to show their support through the coming holidays: I hope families invite international students into their homes for Thanksgiving or in other ways reach out to students to comfort them when they are missing their own families.

I want to feel that in these coming days and months, we will be reassured that our new political leaders will not rule by instinct alone , change laws and regulations in a display of vengeful unchecked power, or showcase support for world leaders who themselves suppress dissent and violate human rights in their own country.

But, I am worried. I listened for a year. We know what has been said- and promised…

How Employability Strengthens the Value Proposition of Study Abroad


In recent years, professionals in the international education industry have focused on making the case for study abroad (and international internships) by addressing its value on these terms: the experience creates global citizens, creates career-ready graduates, builds essential (sometimes industry-specific) professional skills and cross-cultural competencies, strengthens linguistic ability, and fosters a better understanding of critical world issues.  And of course, if purposefully designed with any one, or all, of these goals in mind (and effectively communicated to students), education abroad programs have the potential to succeed in adding enormous value to a students’ academic experience and personal and professional development.

In addition, education abroad supports student employability, therefore, it demonstrably makes a significant contribution to the value proposition of a college education. This linkage is supported by a large volume of research (see Tillman, M. (2012). Employer Perspectives on International Education, in SAGE Handbook of International Higher Education) which unequivocally points to the high correlation between education abroad and ease of employability after graduation (meaning a higher likelihood of employment in a shorter period of time than for students without international experience).

The importance of linking a college degree to the expectation of employment is highlighted in the key findings from a 2016 report of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1):

  • Only 40 percent of students complete a bachelor’s degree within four years
  • Students take an average of almost six years to earn a bachelor’s degree
  • Earnings of the average four-year graduate exceeded those of a typical high school graduate by more than $21,000 (and compounded over a working life, the sum of this earnings difference greatly exceeds the cost of paying for college)

Why is this information important to international educators? Because there is a gap between what we learn from this data and the perception of Americans about the overall value of higher education.

In a recent survey report, only 40% of Americans believe that a college education is necessary to leading “a successful professional life.”(2) This report goes on to say that “universities do not communicate our value well.” This a very practical way to examine the more esoteric discussions of late about the return on investment of going to college  (the “return” referring to whether or not the degree actually leads to employment upon graduation). In this same public opinion survey, Americans hold a contrary, more positive view, when considering value of a degree in purely economic terms: 52% say “a college education is still the best investment by people who want to get ahead and succeed.”

So while questioning the undo emphasis placed on getting a degree, the survey acknowledges that the majority of respondents understand that obtaining an academic credential pays off, literally, in the long run. Why are institutions not more forcefully making this case to students and their families?

The need for institutions to make this linkage more transparent for students is made clear by findings of a 2016 Kaplan Survey (3), prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which highlights the wide gap in student understanding of the value of international experience:

Here are the survey’s principal findings:

  • Graduates believe that institutions of higher education have a responsibility to prepare them for today’s global economy and workforce.
  • Three out of four respondents agree that it is part of the role of universities and colleges to prepare them by offering access to international experience. And almost as many (70%) feel that their higher education has challenged their beliefs and exposed them to different cultures and ways of thinking beyond their home country.
  • Most students have access to international experiences during their studies, but only a minority take advantage of them.
  • Opportunities to gain international experience during their studies were available to 75% of respondents. Most (69%) were offered the chance to study overseas, while 62% had access to foreign language courses and 55% to international cultural exchanges. But only 34% of those with access to international experience actually pursued it.
  • Many students do not realize the importance of international exposure until after graduation, when its full value becomes clearer.
  • Half of respondents feel that they failed to recognize the value of international experience during their studies, suggesting that higher education institutions may need to help students recognize the benefits of participation.
  • International experience in higher education is seen as improving the chances of finding a job. Respondents who had gained international experience during their studies were twice as likely to be employed -within six months of graduation- than those who did not have the same opportunities.

We have clear evidence of a widespread gap in understanding among students enrolled in higher education institutions about the value of international experience to their overall collegiate experience. And we also know there is a growing devaluation among the general public about the value of a college degree (specifically its worth in the current economy).

To close this knowledge gap, the linkage between learning outcomes of international experience and student employability needs to be more effectively and purposefully communicated to students and their families.


  1. American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2016). “A Primer on the College Student Journey.” Retrieved from
  2. Public Agenda, (September 12, 2016). “Public Opinion on Higher Education,” Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/owner/Desktop/2016%20Public%20Opinion%20on%20Higher%20Education.html
  3.  Kaplan (2016). “Going Global: Are graduates prepared for the global workforce?     Retrieved from

A Resource Bibliography: Linking Education Abroad to Employability

This is an updated bibliography of my published work on this topic within the past five years.  I’ve presented on these topics at NAFSA, the CAPA & UMN Career Integration Conference and shortly, at the second IIE Generation Abroad Summit.

The two textbook chapters contain very extensive citations of international resources covering this topic and broader issues relating to global workforce development and the agenda for higher education systems on all continents.

Enjoy the list – if you’d like to discuss bringing me to your campus for staff/faculty workshops and presentations on these issues, write me at

Chapman, V., Stevens, C., and Tillman, M. (2013).  Study Abroad Career Action Plan, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Washington, DC.  Retrieved from

Matherly, C. & Tillman, M. (2015).  Higher Education and the Employability Agenda inThe Palgrave International Handbook of Higher Education Policy and Governance (pp. 281-299), Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Tillman, M. (April 15, 2016). “Connecting the Dots: How Study Abroad Impacts Employability,” NAFSA, Retrieved from

Tillman, M. (April 24, 2015). “Closing the Expectation Gap Between Students and Employers,” NAFSA, Retrieved from

Tillman, M. (2014). Campus Best Practices Supporting Education Abroad & Student Career Development, American Institute for Foreign Study, Stamford, CT. Retrieved from

Tillman, M. (2014). On the Linkage of International Experience and Student Employability, in Career Integration:  Reviewing Impact of Experience Abroad on Employment (pp. 28-30), CAPA & Learning Abroad Center, University of Minnesota. Retrieved from  

Tillman, M. (2014). “Matching expectations of students to the global workforce,” European Association of International Education. Retrieved from

Tillman, M. (2012). Employer Perspectives on International Education, in SAGE Handbook of International Higher Education (pp. 191-206), SAGE Publications, CA.

Tillman, M. (2011, rev. 2013). Student Guide to Study Abroad & Career Development, American Institute for Foreign Study, Stamford, CT. Retrieved from  

IHEC Blog will be reporting from IIE Generation Study Abroad Summit in Washington DC, Oct. 23-25, 2016

I will be presenting a brief talk at the IIE Summit on the topic, “Closing the Employability Gap for Students.”

International Higher Education Consulting

I’ll be attending theupcomingIIE Generation Study Abroad Summit as a member of the media (for IHEC Blog) and not as being from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I’ll be blogging, tweeting and posting to Facebook before, during and after the Summit!  I’m hoping to secure some great interviews with key people associated with Generation Study Abroad as well as other prominent stakeholders in the field.  I also plan to try out Facebook Live so stay tuned to IHEC Blog‘s Facebook page!

This Summit will be my first officialpress credentials for an international education event…although I had quasi-press credentials for my blog when the Fulbright Scholarship Board held their quarterly meeting at the University of Chicago back in May 2013.

Will you be there? It would be great to connect!

#GenerationStudyAbroad #IIESummit2016


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Campus Education Abroad ‘Sherpas’

I’ve just read a very important article by Goldie Blumenstyk in the August 16 Chronicle of Higher Education (via subscription only), “Meet Higher Education’s Newest Players: ‘Education Sherpas.’  It’s applying the analogy of the sherpa as guide to the acute need on our campuses for mentors to assist students make it through the “higher ed maze.” Especially for low-income and first gen students.  In case you did not know the stat, less than 50% of students who start college finish their degree within six years! 

But this idea made me think about my re-blog of a post I wrote last year asking why more students did not “see” or understand the link between their international experience and their employability.  Of course, these students come from backgrounds, relative to the need discussed above, of privilege –one where they do have resources and support to figure things out, right?  But, I also know that these are students who may need support or mentorship to fully make meaning of their cross-cultural experiences and place them in perspective when it comes to their career development.

Why not assign each student-or perhaps a cluster- going abroad a peer sherpa? A guide (someone who has already been abroad) who might be trained (much as RAs receive training for their dorm advising) and receive compensation for their work.  I was an RA and Head Resident Advisor as an undergrad; then in grad school I was a fellow in training and became a Residence Hall Director (my first job).  I know how much effort it takes to work through complex interpersonal issues, conflicts and misunderstanding among students living in campus residences.

Why do we think students can make sense on their own through the complex decision-making prrocess to go abroad for study/work/internship or service?  I’d like to be informed about innovative ways campuses work to guide students –using peer support-through their decision-making to go abroad, make meaning while overseas, and then fully integrate their learning in strategic ways which impact their employability.


Why Don’t Students Understand The Linkage Between Study Abroad & Employability?

With the start of a new academic year, I thought I’d share this again with readers…I’d welcome insights from career service or study abroad colleagues as to why their students don’t “get” the linkage. I’m still thinking about it. Still talking about it.

Global Career Compass

The short answer is–I don’t know and I’m not sure there are easy ways to expain why.

Last week, along with my colleague, Dr. Vera Chapman, Associate Director of Career Services at Colgate University, we conducted a webinar for NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) with participants from a diverse group working in career service offices at 71 colleges and universities (public, private, small, large, urban amd rural and in all regions of the country). When asked if their students understood the linkage of studying abroad to their students’ employasbility, 86% responded NO or UNSURE.

You may be saying, students have bigger things to be thinking about – like graduating on time. As a recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Karin Fischer pointed out (2-23-16), “2 Keys to Success for Underprivileged Students: When to Start College, and Where to Go,”, “If low-income students end up…

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Are we beyond “it was great”?

I’m pleased to share this guest post by Jessica Miller, on a topic which has often been discussed here. The difference is that Jessica is , as she says, a young grad and new to the international education field.  Her comments are instructive for students starting on campus this Fall or who are preparing for their first study abroad program- or who are graduating in 2017. And the answer to her question is:  not yet.


As a recent graduate, a recent study abroad returnee and an even more recent hiring manager for entry level candidates seeking a career in international education, I have a unique perspective, or more so a frustration, with the comment that studying abroad “was great!” Luckily, I can say that I have not heard this comment in from a single candidate. Does that mean we are beyond “it was great,” that we have successfully assisted students in integrating their study abroad experiences into their resume, cover letter and job interview?

Maybe my abroad experiences provoke a deeper conversation in the interview process. Maybe study abroad offices or even career service offices, are intentionally guiding students to make the direct connection between the transferrable soft skills learned abroad to future job prospects. Maybe students are becoming more intentional in their decisions to go abroad. This is great!

Not really. Students have made the connection that studying abroad often develops the skills necessary to become a successful employee. This is evident when candidates in my most recent hiring cycle said: “I studied abroad and that is why I am the best person for this job.” Although this represents a success in that a connection has been made between abroad experiences and future employment, there is of course a second half of this thought that must be completed to obtain employment.

Attention all study abroad returnees: going abroad does not make you stand out from candidates who have not studied abroad.

The specific experiences where you had to adapt to a new set of cultural norms, where you had to communicate in a different language to achieve a goal, where you had to make efficient and accurate decisions when plans changed at the last minute. These experiences and these newly acquired skills are what will set you apart.