AAT banner

Voices of the Global Community


Ling G. LeBeau, Syracuse University
Steven Schaffling, Syracuse University

Academic advising is not just another compartmentalized campus service but serves as the “hub of the wheel” (Habley, 1994) by providing essential academic connections to students and helping them integrate into the campus community. The notion of recruiting students and then just opening the doors to them and letting them navigate the higher education maze on their own should be left in the dust, especially for students who grew up and received secondary education in a foreign country and a foreign language. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2022), over six million tertiary students from its members and partners were studying outside their home countries in 2020. In 2022, nearly one million international students were studying in the United States, accounting for 4.7% of its total higher education population (Institute of International Education, 2022). These data show the size of the international student population and portray the potential effect on the caseloads of academic advisors. 

Academic integration or engagement is the key to increasing student persistence and retention (Schaffling, 2018). Academic advising is at the very core of education and sustaining students. However, the existing scholarly works and initiatives in the field of student success rarely discuss facilitating academic success for international students. This is an area overlooked by many higher education institutions and professional organizations worldwide. To build a sustainable model of retaining international students, universities and academic advising must proactively invest efforts to define and deliver outcomes related to international student academic success.

Many higher education institutions advocate for more support for international students. Nevertheless, many institutions still employ traditional approaches to these activities, such as visa services, instructional language improvement, and social support. To build a sustainable model of enrolling and retaining international students, universities and advising must proactively invest time and effort to define and deliver outcomes related to the academic success of international students.
The Syracuse University (SU) College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (MAX) identified international students as a critical population for improving student retention and graduation numbers. In 2019 a review of the population and its needs was undertaken. This review revealed extensive research detailing international students' challenges in succeeding within U.S. domestic institutions. Smith (2016), for example, names several challenges that need to be addressed by academic support services wings. Fitzgerald (1998), Sandeen (2004), and Tas (2004) also name a number of academic challenges. Carter and Xu (2007), Hansen (1993), and Van Nelson et al. (2004) discuss feelings of isolation among these students. Many students need better help integrating into their chosen college campuses (Andrade, 2006; Carter & Xu, 2007). 

The Office of Academic and Career Advising is the primary undergraduate academic support services resource for CAS/MAX students. This office is tasked with continually advancing the following goals:
•    Support a successful transition into CAS.
•    Educate and guide students toward opportunities afforded by the college and the university.
•    Educate students on the college requirements and expectations.
•    Provide opportunities to aid in a successful student transition to life after graduation.
•    Create supportive professional relationships with students of all backgrounds.

To allow the schools to progress in meeting these goals, as well as the overall university goals of increasing student retention and graduation rates, the Office of Academic and Career Advising will need to offer direct support and intentional programming to the international student population. The advising office's goals require it to be poised to respond to international students' particular challenges. In January 2020, the office hired the first Associate Director of International Student Success to enhance these efforts. After going through a three-year learning curve, the office is seeing positive results. 

In Fall 2022, the international student retention rate for the College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell School of Public Affairs was 91.5%, the highest since 2010 and the second highest on record. Moreover, during the new university-wide academic strategic planning process, one workgroup recommended: “Encourage each school/college to develop a strategy and appropriate staffing for international student academic success (potentially expanding the CAS/MAX International Student Success Model to all schools/colleges).” 

This article will introduce SU’s International Student Success Model, sharing strategies and initiatives developed and implemented to help achieve increased international student retention. The significance of this model will be discussed, and recommendations will be offered for future research and development. 

Significance of the International Student Success Model

According to ACE’s Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2022 (Soler et al., 2022), the top priority between 2016 and 2020 for U.S. higher education institutions was “recruiting international students.” U.S. institutions continue to prioritize having international students on their campuses, making comprehensive and ongoing support services for students essential. The survey results suggest a steady expansion of support services for international students in the past ten years, with “orientation to the institution or the U.S. classroom” (75%) as the highest response, followed by “individualized academic support services” (66%), “orientation to the U.S. and the local community” (66%), and others. However, there is limited support for student academic success. Respondents indicated that “individualized academic support services” refers to an emphasis on flexibility for international students during the pandemic. Clearly, a gap remains in supporting international students holistically. 

ACE’s International Student Monograph (Glass et al., 2021) proposes the ACE Model for International Student Inclusion and Success, a vision for international student success emphasizing inclusion and equity and a more sustainable and human-centered approach. However, this monograph does not emphasize academics. SU’s International Student Success Model presents a vision for student success by changing the narrative of international student support services, most importantly, bridging the gap between academic advising and international education. 

The International Student Success Model

SU’s International Student Success Model starts with answering the question of “why.” The Golden Circle from Simon Sinek (2009), inspired by the classic golden ratio, is applied to articulate this model (Figure 1). The mission statement and outcomes for international students to address the “why” were developed and determined before all initiatives and programs. 


The model collaboratively guides and empowers CAS and MAX students within an inclusive environment to realize their potential and discover their purpose as they successfully transition into university life.

Figure 1: International Student Success Model 


Student success is the soul of academic advising efforts. The current 37 advising communities (AC) at SU support a wide range of student populations, but none focuses on international students. There are limited resources that academic advisors can utilize to support international students. NAFSA, a professional association serving over 10,000 international educators worldwide, has an International Student and Scholar Services Knowledge Community to support international students with a focus on visa services, English language improvement, and social support, but it is limited regarding academic success. The SU International Student Success Model adopts a proactive and holistic approach to bridge the gap between academic advising and international education. This effort connects the two professional fields and serves international students collaboratively and comprehensively. 


Guided by the answers to why and how, five areas of initiatives were developed to address “what,” as articulated below.

Pre-arrival academic coaching. To help new international students make a smooth academic transition to an American university, a non-credit asynchronous course was developed in Blackboard with three objectives: 1) to provide preparatory instruments (written materials, videos, online workshops) to facilitate this process; 2) to establish trust and connection with students (and their parents); and 3) to facilitate communication among new students and parents. The program comprises six modules and takes students approximately ten hours to complete at their own pace. 

Peer mentoring. The peer mentoring program aims to assist new international students in making a successful academic adjustment to Syracuse University and increase their engagement and academic achievement. Each new international student is assigned a peer mentor in early May. One peer mentor usually works with six to ten students from May to December. The peer mentors are trained before working with students with a series of materials and toolkits, including program syllabi, facilitator guides, and other items. Program assessment results from the past three years demonstrate that new students actively engaged with peer mentors had significantly higher college transition satisfaction rates and grade point averages. In addition, all peer mentors reflect that they gain leadership skills and other professional competencies from serving as a mentor. 

Advisor training. Existing professional resources to facilitate academic advisors’ understanding of international student learning characteristics are limited. To achieve international student academic success, mutual understanding and respect between advisors and students are essential. A series of training workshops and guiding materials were developed for advisors focusing on the correlation between English proficiency level and class selection, simplifying academic integrity, international student employment regulations (CPT/OPT), and other topics. An annual advisor survey shows that advisor confidence in working with international students is steadily improving. 

Academic intervention. One of the most acute challenges for international students is to navigate requirements from all directions: for example, from the advising office, the international services office, the career center, and others. The students can become overwhelmed and do not know how to prioritize. SU has developed the Academic Success Compass, a guideline that helps international students develop learning strategies and refine mindsets and personal management skills during their four years of undergraduate study. It is organized into four directions: Academic Success, Career Preparedness, Networking, and Professional Development. Academic and career advisors can also utilize the Compass to ensure students stay on the right track during their academic and personal journey. 

To provide a safe and welcoming space for international students to meet, learn, and share on a regular basis, SU developed the weekly International Student Wednesday Forum. Forum topics are selected based on students’ feedback as well as on reflections from academic advisers’ interactions with them. Topics generally focus on the most confusing and challenging areas for international students, such as major selection, internships, and the culture of an American classroom.

Communication. Productive, meaningful, and caring communication increases students’ feelings regarding belonging on campus. SU offers a weekly international student newsletter highlighting academic actions, scholarship opportunities, recommended events, internships, and campus jobs. In addition, its social media groups on platforms including WeChat, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook help create an international student community for students to exchange ideas and ask questions and for the university to communicate regarding critical deadlines and events. A similar communication approach applies to international student parents, who are great partners in the school’s work with their children. 

The Future 

A formal request to create an International Student Success Advising Community was submitted to NACADA in late 2022. The goal of this AC is to enhance international student educational attainment globally, with outcomes targeted on: 
1.    Defining and redefining academic success for international students in the context of emerging discourse and research on inclusive teaching, learning, and advising
2.    Discussing current and emerging trends in facilitating academic success for international students
3.    Sharing best high-impact practices
4.    Developing strategies and initiatives that help international students succeed
5.    Creating an international student success model 
An action plan will be developed after NACADA approves this AC, and further research will be conducted to explore this new and exciting professional field.

Andrade, M. S. (2006). International student persistence: Integration or cultural integrity? Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 8(1), 57–81. https://doi.org/10.2190/9MY5-256H-VFVA-8R8P 

Carter, K., & Xu, Y. (2007). Addressing the hidden dimension in nursing education: Promoting cultural competence. Nurse Educator, 32(4),149–153.  

Fitzgerald, V. F. (1998). The identification of problems in academic and social support systems by international students (Publication No. 9834459) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa]. ProQuest. https://www.proquest.com/openview/5ab1c043ac1243662b6250678584bcb1/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

Glass, C. R., Godwin, K. A., & Helms, R. M. (2021). Toward greater inclusion and success: A new compact for international students. American Council on Education. https://www.acenet.edu/Documents/Intl-Students-Monograph.pdf 

Habley, W. R. (1994). Key concepts in academic advising. In Summer Institute on Academic Advising Session Guide. Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Hansen, M. E. (1993). An orientation and leadership training hand-book for international students (Beacon College Handbook). Middlesex County College.

Institute of International Education (IIE). (2022). Fast facts 2022. https://opendoorsdata.org/fast_facts/fast-facts-2022/ 

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2023). International student mobility. https://doi.org/10.1787/4bcf6fc3-en

Sandeen, A. (2004, May/June). Educating the whole student: The growing academic importance of student affairs. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 36(3), 28–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/00091380409605577

Schaffling, S. (2018, September). Common factors: A meta-model of academic advising. NACADA Academic Advising Today. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Common-Factors-A-Meta-Model-of-Academic-Advising.aspx 

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Portfolio/Penguin.
Smith, C. (2016). International student success. Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, 4(2), 61–73. https://doi.org/10.1002/sem3.20084

Soler, M. C., Kim, J. H., & Cecil, B. G. (2022). Mapping internationalization on U.S. campuses: 2022 Edition. American Council on Education. https://www.acenet.edu/Documents/Mapping-Internationalization-2022.pdf 

Tas, M. (2004). Promoting diversity: Recruitment, selection, orientation, and retention of international students.  Dissertation Abstracts International (UMI No. 3134700).

Van Nelson, C., Nelson, J. S., & Malone, B. G. (2004). Predicting success of international graduate students in an American university. College and University Journal, 80(1), 19–27.

Posted in: 2023 June 46:2


There are currently no comments, be the first to post one!

Post Comment

Only registered users may post comments.
Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.