New Research Highlights A Key Remedy for the U.S. Higher Education Demographic Cliff: International School Graduates

LONDON--()--Resurgent interest from international students may provide a boon to struggling U.S. colleges that face massive enrollment declines, according to a new research report from BridgeU, the leading provider of college and career readiness services to international K12 schools. The report shows how strong interest from international school graduates in key global markets, combined with targeted recruitment and marketing by sought-after U.S. institution types, can mitigate the much-discussed enrollment cliff that is predicted to reduce undergraduate enrollment by 15 percent from 2025 to 2029.1

The newly-released BridgeU report, "Redefining Global Talent Pipelines: The Crucial Role of International School Graduates in Sustaining and Enriching U.S. Undergraduate Higher Education," examines the impact of international school K12 graduates on application and enrollment trends at U.S. higher education institutions by analyzing data from 250,000 applications representing over 32,000 international student applicants from 142 countries.

Key findings:

  • Resurgent interest from China and new regional opportunities.
    • The percentage of international students applying to U.S. schools from China increased by 6.2% from 2022 to 2023, following the big pandemic-driven drop and closing off of China.
    • Emerging markets in Africa and Asia have seen significant growth in the number of new international schools, with meaningful potential upside for the U.S.: more than 50% of international school students in Southeast Asia are interested in applying to a U.S. university.
    • The average number of applications to U.S. higher education institutions from students in Central America increased from 3.17 in 2019 to 8.49 in 2023.
    • The highest percentages of international students shortlisting the U.S. as their top higher education destination came from South Korea (86%) and Brazil (79%).
  • A silver lining to U.S. enrollment woes. Higher education institutions in many of the states expecting larger than average declines in college-aged student populations also receive the most interest from international school graduates, with colleges and universities on the East Coast consistently attracting the highest number of BridgeU applications across all five graduating years.
  • Conversion matters: Active consideration of U.S. universities by European students rose from 22.5% in 2019 to 33.8% in 2023, but actual applications have not increased significantly – indicating poor conversion rates from early interest to application when compared to regions like Southeast and East Asia and opportunities to improve.
  • Targeted growth by institution type: Over the past five years, public universities saw year-over-year application growth from international school graduates – but the largest percentage growth in interest and applications over that same period was seen by small liberal arts colleges.

“International students play a critical role in securing long-term tuition revenue for higher education institutions and in filling much-needed talent gaps in an already stressed labor market,” said Lucy Stonehill, founder and CEO of BridgeU. “This is a growing, diverse pool of prospective applicants with strong academic foundations and robust English language skills. Our report underscores the importance of strategic recruitment efforts for U.S. higher education institutions in engaging with international school students.”

Stonehill noted that even as the acute shortage of STEM graduates threatens the United States' ability to remain globally competitive in the longer term, international students have the potential to serve as an important source of U.S. labor market prospects – they make up 72% of all graduate students in computer and information sciences and between 50% to 70% of graduate students studying other key STEM fields.2

Meanwhile, the international school K12 segment continues to expand, driven by demand from middle and upper-middle-income families in emerging markets. In the last 10 years, the number of international schools globally have increased by 52% to 13,190 schools in January 20233, and there is continued confidence in the market which forecasts growth in international K12 schools in the 5-8% CAGR range.

The report analyzes data from across the last five admissions cycles and includes insights into application trends, institution type preferences, conversion rates, and university ranking data – crucial considerations for U.S. colleges and universities seeking to grow enrollment in the years ahead.

The full report can be accessed here.

About BridgeU
BridgeU, a Kaplan company, is an edtech business whose mission is to connect global student talent with the best higher education opportunities worldwide and to help K12 schools and universities alike to harness the advantages of digital solutions to drive international student mobility. The BridgeU university and careers guidance platform is used by international K12 schools in over 140 countries to help students make smarter, more informed decisions about their global higher education and career pathways. BridgeU’s partnership services help universities to connect with the largest single community of international schools in the world and empower admissions teams to design truly student-centric recruitment strategies that align with institutional enrollment priorities.

For more information about BridgeU, please visit

Note to editors: Kaplan is a subsidiary of Graham Holdings Company (NYSE: GHC)

1 AACRAO, (2018), College students predicted to fall by more than 15 percent after the year 2025,
2 National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), (2021), NFAP Policy Brief: International Students in Science and Engineering
3 ISC Research


Press Contact: Carina Wong,, 646-467-2241

Release Summary

Renewed interest from international students may help struggling U.S. colleges, according to a new research report from BridgeU, a Kaplan company.

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Press Contact: Carina Wong,, 646-467-2241