‘THE ROI NEEDS TO BE THERE’
Interstride is hitting its stride in 2020, having recently surpassed 60,000 active users. The company, which now has about a dozen employees, has more than 130 partners, among them the University of Maryland Smith School of Business, UC-Davis Graduate School of Management, Texas A&M Mays, Arizona State Carey, Fordham Gabelli, Texas Tech Rawls, UC-Boulder Leeds, ASU Thunderbird, and SMU Cox.
Why has 2020 been such a watershed year for the Interstride? Two reasons: U.S. immigration policy under Donald Trump, and the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic.
In June, Trump issued a long-awaited executive order that left untouched the federal Optional Practical Training program through which international students are granted between one and three years’ stay to work in the United States — but that suspended, through the end of the year, an array of visa programs including H-1B, which is the goal of many graduate school alumni in OPT. More than 220,000 places are available in OPT annually to eligible non-citizens; only about 85,000 H-1B visas are granted, via lottery.
According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, the association of business schools that administers the GMAT admissions test, 48% of U.S. MBA programs reported a decline in international applications for their 2019 entering classes. Total applications to MBA programs were down 9.1% for the 2019-2020 academic year; international applications fell by an even larger 13.7%, as foreign students grew fearful of the hurdles to studying in the U.S. Across the top 25 programs, every one reported app declines in 2019, fueled by declining interest from foreign candidates.
Then, in March, coronavirus made travel to and from the U.S. difficult to impossible for many, heightening international MBA candidates’ concerns.
“Immigration politics in the U.S. is definitely one of the core issues and a big bottleneck for students,” Nitin Agrawal says. “The flow of information for international students is just not there. So when someone is paying 200-plus-thousand dollars — because, as you know, international students don’t really get scholarships or financial aid, and most of these people are footing full tuition — the service needs to be justified. The ROI needs to be there on the education. If these students have to go back to their home country and work for a job in rupees, it just doesn’t justify that expenditure.”
A HIGHLY SATISFIED CLIENTELE
In May, Interstride conducted a poll of 2,450 international students on its platform. The company found that 90% recommend Interstride to other international students, while 86% agree that Interstride is “must-have” technology for universities to better serve international students. Eighty percent rate their overall experience on Interstride as excellent, equal to the percentage who said they relied on Interstride more than any other technology offered by the university. Out of a possible score of 5 points, the company received 4.1.
In a new survey in September of 250 university administrators at 70 schools, the company’s ratings were “even better,” Agrawal says. All — 100% — said Interstride is more useful than other, comparable tech options for international students, and that it helps schools prepare those students for careers. Nearly all — 97% — expressed satisfaction with the company’s client support. They gave Interstride a 4.4 rating out of 5 points.
Interstride’s services have especially been helpful at schools where all or most instruction — and therefore career and other services — are being conducted remotely. “They still feel the need for the services if only, because of the remote situation, career advisers can’t assist students in person,” Agrawal says. “So there’s more of a need for these remote or technology now to assist students.”