The discursive construction of international students in the USA: prestige, diversity, and economic gain

Karly S. Ford, Leandra Cate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Universities in the USA must navigate a complex set of organizational goals when communicating about international students. On one hand, international students signal that the university has a global reach and diverse student body; on the other hand, international students have been viewed as edging out domestic students for access to scarce resources. How do US universities frame and reframe the fraught narrative around international students? We examined the websites of over 160 large universities in the USA and collected screenshots of how international students were represented. Using an academic capitalism framing, we understand universities to be neoliberal actors focused on securing their status position and generating economic growth. In this way, our findings show how international students have come to be framed as consonant with multiple organizational missions and goals. These goals include being viewed as global/cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse and financially sound. International students are in this sense are discursively constructed through these representations, framed as markers of prestige and legitimacy, as well as a means of economic stimulus. We also find that they are rarely presented as ordinary or unremarkable participants in a campus community alongside their domestic counterparts, marked instead by these exceptional narratives that reframe them in ways that serve institutional goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1195-1211
Number of pages17
JournalHigher Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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