Careers in
International
Higher Education

Careers in international higher education are professionally and personally rewarding. While many individuals pursue this career path after completing rigorous graduate studies, others have entered the profession from lateral careers related to higher education or international education. Whatever the trajectory, careers in international education require significant knowledge, experience and training. The resources presented here provide a brief overview of the international education profession, mostly in the U.S., for individuals at all stages of their international higher education career path.

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Overview of the Profession

This section provides a general overview of the international higher education profession. Over the past fifty years, international education has evolved into a recognized profession with its own professional associations, competencies, standards, ethics and educational pathways. There are also a number of organizations that have emerged to support the day-to-day operations of international educators.

 

Although this particular resource is focused on international higher education, there is robust and thriving activity happening within K-12 education not noted here.

Borrowing from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the profession of international higher education is oriented largely around five specific knowledge communities:

EA professionals focus on the needs of education abroad professionals who serve outbound and inbound non-degree student mobility.
IEL includes senior international officers and other international education leaders who provide vision and build commitment for comprehensive internationalization efforts.
IEM professionals work in admissions, recruitment, enrollment management, marketing, credential evaluation, and intensive English programs.
ISSS professionals support international students, scholars, and their dependent family members by overseeing immigration reporting and advising, as well as developing opportunities to support engagement with the university community and activities that celebrate intercultural understanding.
TLS professionals focus on curriculum internationalization, research that informs practice, and intercultural communications skills development. These individuals may serve as faculty, administrators, graduate students/post-docs, researchers, intercultural trainers, cross-cultural counselors, and other professionals in international higher education.

At institutions of higher education in the U.S., centralized international offices commonly report through academic affairs up to a chief academic officer. Alternatively, some institutions may house international offices within the student affairs division or spread individual knowledge communities between multiple divisions. There is no standard office model that is representative of international higher education across U.S. colleges and universities. Institutional size, historical factors, and institutional culture are several of the variables that influence the placement and structure of a centralized international office or individual knowledge community units. Below is an example of one type of semi-centralized international education office, representing a senior international officer with only education abroad and international student and scholar services as reporting units. In other centralized models, likely reporting units may also include international enrollment management (e.g., student recruitment, admissions), English Language programs, and/or related regional and thematic centers and institutes.

While campus-based international offices have a central role in advancing the direction and scope of international education in the U.S., there are many other organizations that have emerged to support and manage the day-to-day operations of international education. Such organizations include:

As with any profession, the use of acronyms and industry-specific jargon flourish within the international higher education community. Getting acquainted with this jargon is critical for anyone who wants to speak the language of the profession, keeping in mind that even this language varies across national contexts. For example, a Senior International Officer (SIO), or Chief International Officer (CIO) is the individual within an organization charged with leading and facilitating campus internationalization efforts. In Europe, the role may be referred to as an International Relations Manager (IRM). In the world of international student & scholar services (ISSS), immigration jargon is a necessity. Anyone who works in U.S. ISSS engages with the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) and the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS). School officials who maintain regular access to the SEVIS system are the Primary Designated School Official (PDSO), Designated School Official (DSO), Responsible Officer (RO), and Alternative Responsible Officer (ARO).  In education abroad, professionals also utilize a plethora of terms and acronyms as well. The Forum on Education Abroad Glossary of Terms provides a comprehensive overview of common terms used in education abroad.

Getting Established in International Higher Education

This section provides a comprehensive overview of the most relevant associations and news outlets in international higher education. Understanding these resources is a must for professionals. For those wishing to pursue a formal degree or professional training, a list of options is provided.

There are many professional associations focused on international education around the world. Each association typically offers an annual conference as well as professional development opportunities throughout the year. Many national university associations also include robust international services, as do the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). Engagement in these organizations generally require membership, which can vary between individual membership and institutional membership. There are many international associations as well, such as JAFSA in Japan and CBIE in Canada and regional associations such as EAIE for Europe, APAIE for Asia-Pacific, and IOHE for the Americas. Some notable international education associations in the U.S. are:

The Alliance for International Exchange is an association that represents organizations and companies comprising the educational and cultural exchange community in the U.S. and serves as a collective public policy voice.

The American International Recruitment Council works to safeguard the interests of both international students and enrolling institutions through the promotion of ethical, standards-based international recruitment strategies.

The Association of International Education Administrators is a membership organization formed in November 1982 and is the only association specifically focused on international education SIOs.

The mission of Diversity Abroad is to create equitable access to the benefits of global education and it is the leading organization advancing diversity and inclusive policies and practices in the field of international education and cultural exchange. Diversity Abroad was founded in 2006 and has 300+ members.

The Forum on Education Abroad provides training and resources to education abroad professionals. With over 800 member institutions, including U.S. colleges and universities, overseas institutions, agencies, organizations, and foundations, the Forum is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the Standards Development Organization (SDO) for the field of education abroad. Its Standards of Good Practice are used to develop, manage, assess, and improve education abroad programming.

The Global Leadership League is a professional organization for leaders in international education, providing a platform for community, knowledge, and dialogue. A membership organization, the League offers a vibrant, safe space for professionals to learn from each other and advance their own careers.

Established in 1919, IIE focuses on international student exchange, foreign affairs, and international peace and security. IIE creates programs of study and training for students, educators and professionals from various sectors. IIE’s mission focuses on building more peaceful and equitable societies by advancing scholarship, building economies and promoting access to opportunity.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world’s largest association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA has 10,000 members from 3,500 institutions worldwide.

International educators in higher education get news and updates from many sources. For example, PIE News is a leading international source for news and updates for the profession while University World News provides a window into higher education news worldwide.  Other major outlets on higher education include, Inside Higher EdTimes Higher Ed,  and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

There are a number of active industry listserves, including SECUSS-L, and NAFSA offers a number of listserves as well. 

 

The Chronicle of Higher Education contributing writer Karin Fischer’s weekly newsletter Latitude(s) is key, providing a weekly analysis of current international higher education topics worldwide. Gateway provides a monthly newsletter that offers news, announcements, and resources on international higher education.   Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education also offers an informative quarterly newsletter relevant to scholar-practitioners of international higher education.

 

Gateway Resources provides a free curation of information relevant to the work of international educators and scholars around the world. Carpe Global also provides curated international resources and opportunities to inform and empower people with global interests.

 

There are numerous blogs focused on international education, too, including the Global Career Compass authored by Martin Tillman and the International Higher Education Consulting authored by Dr. David Comp.

There are many professional pathways to becoming an international educator, but a specialized graduate degree provides a comparative advantage in the job market and is often expected. NAFSA maintains a helpful Graduate Program Database. Among the most well-known master’s level programs include:

Lesley University’s M.A. in International Higher Education
SIT Graduate Institute’s M.A. in International Education
Middlebury College’s Institute for International Studies in Monterey M.A. in International Education Management
NYU Steinhardt’s M.A. in International Education
University at Albany’s M.A. in International Education Management and Leadership
Boston College M.A. in International Higher Education
Select doctoral programs include:
SIT Graduate Institute’s Ed.D. in Global Education
University of Minnesota’s Ph.D. in Leadership for Intercultural and International Education
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore’s Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation Ph.D. program
NYU Steinhardt’s Ph.D. in International Education
Boston College Ph.D./EdD in Higher Education

A number of high-quality professional development, training, and career coaching opportunities are also available through professional associations, such as the NAFSA Academy.  Others include:

Gateway’s Leadership Institute
Melibee Global
True North Intercultural
Global Leadership League
University at Albany’s International Education Leadership Expert Series
Center for International Higher Education – Lynch School of Education and Human Development – Boston College (bc.edu)

Understanding the Profession

Most positions in campus-based international education offices are classified as administrative positions.  However, some senior leadership positions may include an academic appointment in addition to the administrative duties. An overview of education abroad positions is provided by the Forum Education on Abroad.  See NAFSA’s Career Center for further information on career paths in international education.

International offices often function like a microcosm of an entire college or university, and staff need general knowledge spanning academics, student life, risk, and systems.  As international education has grown in prominence, at least in the U.S., the profession has shifted away from a generalist model to one that requires area-specific specialization. As a result, positions have begun to emerge in international health, safety and security, global business and finance, and marketing.

Professional competencies for international educators are outlined by NAFSA, and are a great resource for anyone in the job market, as well as hiring managers to review.  The competencies needed for careers in international education vary depending on areas of specialization. For example, specific immigration knowledge is needed in ISSS, but all areas of the profession require a high level of intercultural competence and understanding. Furthermore, adaptability and general understanding of higher education are critical skills for the profession. NAFSA breaks down these competencies into three main functions.

A number of surveys have been conducted that depict salary, demographic, job titles, and other information within the profession. These include the AIEA SIO survey, the EUASA Resident Director survey, and Diversity Abroad.  In general salaries vary greatly depending on institutional type, title, location, and other factors.  According to CUPAHR (College and University Professional Association for Human Resources) data, some estimated annual salary ranges are listed below, keeping in mind that salaries vary greatly by institution type, region, etc.

The profession of international higher education has come to include more diversity and inclusive best practices over the years, but much remains to be done. International offices must collaborate with diversity offices, as argued in the 2021 Diversity Abroad white paper, Collaboration to Advance Racial Equity Through Education Abroad.


While ISSS and IEM programs bring student diversity to US campuses as they internationalizing the student body, education abroad enrollment lacks the diversity of the US undergraduate population. Despite strong rhetoric and varied efforts over the years to boost participation of underrepresented students, the slow pace of change in this area has given rise to significant new initiatives, leadership development and trainings, and collaborations.  The renewed interest in social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion is bringing about changes in education, and in international education, as the following indicates: hiring managers are now requiring a statement on diversity and inclusion from job applicants and sometimes the Diversity Abroad International Education Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program as a “preferred qualification”; equity, diversity and inclusion is one of four Guidelines in the 6th edition of the Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad; and education abroad providers are offering leadership in addressing the challenges of access and inclusion in their programming, funding and training.

 
diversity abroad logo
In the U.S., the Institute of International Education produces its annual accounting of student mobility via its Open Doors report. NAFSA also tracks the latest trends and data that provide useful context and perspective to the global environment.

There are numerous helpful references that provide practical guidance on navigating careers in international education.  NAFSA’s Careers in International Education: A Guide for New Professionals is a great place to start.  This publication offers practical tools and resources and perspectives on different career trajectories.  NAFSA’s The International Education Handbook: Principles and Practices of the Field is also a very helpful resources.

Tips for Professionals at all Career Stages

Those pursuing a career in international higher education share a passion for intercultural exchange and foreign languages and have a genuine interest in global learning and engagement. It is commonly assumed that international offices are mostly about international travel and seeing the world. While jobs in International education are indeed exciting and fast-paced, there is much administrative work behind the scenes needed to make it all possible. Entry-level professionals are advised to approach careers in this area with a clear understanding of what to expect.

Mid-career professionals have many career paths and options. Once in a role, individuals may stay with an institution because of opportunities for career advancement there. The internal candidate for a position may be at an advantage. Individuals should be willing to move to another institution to progress in their careers. The professional network in international education can help in identifying new positions. A desire for continuous improvement and adaptability demonstrates ambition and a willingness to take on new challenges. Finally, many of the skills acquired in international education are transferable to other professions. Experience in enrollment management, for example, is relevant to work in an admissions office.

Given the varied job responsibilities of international education professionals, numerous career pathways are possible. Skills acquired as international educators are transferable to many other professions. Some transition to other higher education roles in offices of the registrar, student life, advancement, and enrollment management. Other individuals may move into completely new arenas like international business, educational technology, or nonprofit organizations.

Internationally based educators with U.S. organizational affiliations have numerous roles and responsibilities. Some roles include resident directors, student activities coordinators, and faculty who support education abroad programs or run satellite campuses for U.S. colleges and universities. Other international roles include program managers or regional directors for organizations like EducationUSA that support bringing international students to the U.S.


Internationally-based professionals usually have professional networks in the regions they are based and are encouraged to leverage those networks for professional opportunities, such as APUNE (Association of North American University Programs in Spain), APAUF (Association of American University Programs in France), AACUPI (Association of American College and University Programs in Italy).

Senior & retiring professionals have knowledge and experience. Staying connected is important, both for the individual professional and for the field of international education. So whether you have retired or are planning to do so soon, your involvement in international higher education does not have to end!

Finding a Job in International Education

Whichever stage you are at in your international education career, launching a job search is a significant step. With so many places to start looking, a job search can sometimes feel overwhelming and it can certainly feel like a full-time job! The resources in this section provide tips for launching a job search in international higher education.

What are some tips for launching a job search in international education?

Where should I look to find a job?

Understanding the Field

Within the international education community, the terms field and profession are often used interchangeably.  A profession is generally understood as a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and positions itself as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognized body of learning derived from formal research, training and education, and is recognized by the public as such.  The resources presented here have largely been in reference to the profession.

An academic discipline or field is generally understood as a branch of knowledge that is taught and researched. It incorporates expertise, people, projects, studies, inquiry, and research areas that are associated with a given scholarly subject area.  There is a growing body of research in international education that is emerging as a field in itself.  See Gateway Resources for foundational reading in the field of international education. The AIEA Research Agendas for the Internationalization of Higher Education is also useful.

The 2016 publication International Higher Education’s Scholar-Practitioners: Bridging Research and Practice (Edited by Bernhard Streitwieser and Anthony C. Ogden) is a must-read volume for those interested in understanding the interaction between the profession and the field.

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Mark Beirn

AFFILIATE

An experienced global researcher and administrator, Mark Beirn brings a critical approach to risk management, factoring structural racism and identity-based violence into his rubric for supporting equitable global mobility.

Specialization Areas:

– Global Risk Management
– Education Abroad
– Diversity, Equity, Inclusion in International Education
– Health and Safety
– Curriculum Development

 

Stephen Appiah-Padi​

AFFILIATE

Stephen Appiah-Padi is an international educator with several years of teaching and administrative experience in both 4 and 2-year HEIs. An experienced global education practitioner-scholar, with a demonstrated history of success in the field.

Dr. Appiah-Padi has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada in Educational Policy & Administration with a specialization in International/Intercultural Education.

At Northwestern College, he provided oversight in the administration of education abroad and international student services. In Lansing, Michigan, he first oversaw diversity and intercultural education at Lansing Community College, and later created the Center for International and Intercultural Education (CIIE) which merged intercultural engagement and international education programs of the institution, and he became its first director. Additionally, Dr. Appiah-Padi taught a course, “Diversity in the American Workplace”, to undergraduate management students of the College. In his current position, he provides leadership and vision in advancing strategic internationalization initiatives, including international partnerships and study abroad programs at Bucknell University.

Dr Appiah-Padi has created and facilitated several workshops for faculty and staff development in higher education and in business organizations. He has presented at several national and international conferences. In NAFSA, among several volunteer leadership positions, he has served as Dean of the Fundamentals of Intercultural Communication Workshop, the Leadership Development Committee member, Chair of the Africa Special Interest Group, and a Fellow of the Global Fellowship Program for mentoring emerging leaders of internationalization in African HEIs. He currently serves as a member of the NAFSA Board of Directors.

Specialization Areas:

– Education Abroad
– International education leadership development
– Intercultural education and engagement
– International partnerships and linkages

Rosa Almoguera

AFFILIATE

Dr. Rosa Almoguera has worked as an international educator for over twenty years. She was trained as a Hispanic Philologist at the Universidad Complutense, in Madrid, and did her M.A. at the University of Pennsylvania. Her Ph.D., from Universidad Complutense included a field study and edition of written balladry “Romancero”. During many years Rosa combined teaching and her role as a senior administrator at the Fundación Ortega-Marañón in Toledo, Spain. At the Foundation, Rosa directed and, in many cases created, programs for the University of Minnesota, Notre Dame, Princeton, Ohio State, Arcadia, and the University of Chicago. She has also been a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, University of Portland, and Interamericana de Puerto Rico.

Beginning in 2016, Rosa works as an international education consultant for both public and private European and US higher education institutions. Rosa has been successful in developing new partnerships and programs, as well as helping improve already existing ones.

Rosa is a member of Forum and NAFSA and has presented with higher education professionals on innovative academic and research programming, STEM in study abroad and Nationalism in Europe. Rosa is currently completing the final Professional Certification from the Forum on Education Abroad.
 

Specialization Areas:

– Student services
– Education abroad programming
– Institutional partnerships
– Education and training