The Predictors of Cognitive Skills Development Among International Students

Background Characteristics, Precollege Experiences, and Current College Experiences


  • Christie Joy Curtis Biola University, USA



cognitive skills development, international students, writing proficiency


For international students, seeking a tertiary education outside of their home countries has been a common practice for centuries. However, recent years have brought a significant influx in the number of international students entering the United States to procure a postsecondary education. In 2018–2019, Open Doors (Institute for International Education, 2019) reported an increase in the number of international students studying in the United States for the 14th consecutive year. Because maintaining this stream of international students is of utmost importance to university officials, they strive to meet the educational goals of this student population. Understanding factors that impact the academic achievement of international students is critical. The background characteristics, precollege characteristics, and college experiences of international students have been found to predict cognitive skills development, and cognitive skills development has been linked to optimal academic achievement and student satisfaction.

Author Biography

Christie Joy Curtis, Biola University, USA

CHRISTIE J. CURTIS, PhD, is an Associate Dean in the School of Education at Biola University. Her major research interests lie in the area of cognitive skills development, international students, writing proficiency, post-traditional students, spirituality, and higher education research


Andrade, M. S. (2006). International students in English-speaking universities: Adjustment factors. Journal of Research in International Education, 5(2), 131–154.

APAGS Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. (2016, October 19). International students as teaching assistants: Barriers and suggestions. gradPSYCH Blog.

Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college? Jossey-Bass Publishers.

The Audiopedia. (2017, January 30). What is the definition of international education? [Video]. YouTube.

Banjong, D. N., & Olson, M.R. (2016). Issues and trends of international students in the United States. International Journal of Education, 4(1), 1–14.

Bartell, M. (2003). “Internationalization of Universities: A University Culture-

Based Framework”. Higher Education, 45 (1), 43-70.

BrckaLorenz, A., & Gieser, J. (2011). Global awareness and student engagement [Paper presentation]. Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education in Charlotte, NC, United States.

Byrne, B. (2010). Structural equation modeling with AMOS: Basic concepts,

applications, and programming. New York, NY: Routledge.

Chevalier, A. (2014). How to attract foreign students. IZA World of Labor.

Chow, P. (2015). What international students think about US higher education. International Higher Education, 65, 10–12.

de Guzman, M. R. T., Durden, T. R., Taylor, S. A., Guzman, J. M., & Potthoff, K. L. (2016, February). Cultural competence: An important skill for the 21st century. NebGuide.

England-Seigerdt, C. (2013). Draft 2013 national tuition and fee report. Washington Student Achievement Council. http/

Gautum, C., Lowery, C. L., Mays, C., & Durant, D. (2016). Challenges for global learners: A qualitative study of the concerns and difficulties of international students. Journal of International Students, 6(2), 501–526.

Garcia, H. A., & de Lourdes Villarreal, M. (2014). The “redirecting” of international students: American higher education policy hindrances and implications. Journal of International Students, 4(2), 126–136.

Glass, C. R. (2012). Educational experiences associated with international students’ learning, development, and positive perceptions of campus climate. Journal of Studies in International Education, 16, 228–251.

Grapevine Project. (2020). Annual grapevine compilation of state fiscal for higher education results for fiscal year 2020. Retrieved April 17, 2020, from

Hegarty, N. (2014). Where we are now—The presence and importance of international students to universities in the United States. Journal of International Students, 4(3), 223–235.

Heggins, W. J., & Jackson, J. F. L. (2003). Understanding the collegiate experience for Asian international students at a midwestern research university. College Student Journal, 37, 379–391.

Hemsley-Brown, J. (2012). “The best education in the world”: Reality, repetition, or cliché? International students’ reasons for choosing an English university. Studies in Higher Education, 37(8), 1005–1022. doi:10.1080/03075079.2011.562286

Hesel, R. A. (2012). Definitive study of college-bound students in China.

Hoffa, W. W, (2007). A history of US study abroad: Beginnings to 1965. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad and The Forum on Education Abroad.

Institute for International Education. (2019). Open Door fast facts. Retrieved April 11, 2020, from

Jaschik, S. (2012, June 14). Friendless in America. Inside Higher Ed.

Jenkins, H. M. (1983). Growth and impact of educational interchanges. In H. M. Jenkins & Associates (Eds.), Educating students from other nations (pp. 4–30). Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Johnstone, K. M., Ashbaugh, H., & Warfield, T. D. (2002). Effects of repeated writing practice and contextual-writing experiences on college students’ writing skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 305–315. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.94.2.305

Kim, Y. K., Edens, D., Iorio, M. F., Curtis, C. J., & Romero, E. (2015). Cognitive skills development among international students at research institutions in the United States. Journal of International Students, 5(4), 526–540.

Kim, Y. K., & Sax, L. J. (2009). Student-faculty interaction in research universities: Differences by student, gender, race, social class, and first-generation status. Review of Higher Education, 50, 437–459. doi:10.1007/s11162-009-9127-x

King, P. M. (2009). Principles of development and developmental change underlying theories of cognitive and moral development. Journal of College Student Development, 50, 597–620.

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Kington, A. (2014, November 11). International interns can bring diversity and perspective to the workplace. InterExchange.

Lee, J. J. (2010). International students’ experiences and attitudes at a US host institution: Self-reports and future recommendations. Journal of Research in International Education, 9(66), 66–84.

Lee, J. J. (2013, July 11). Find on-campus support for international students. U.S. News.

Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53, 381–409. doi:10.1007/s10734-005-4508-3

Lee, M. (2015, July 7). The complete history of study abroad. GO Overseas.

Li, G., Chen, W., & Duanmu, J.-L. (2009). Determinants of international students’ academic performance: A comparison between Chinese and other international students. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14, 389–405.

Li, R. Y., & Kaye, M. (1998). Understanding overseas students’ concerns and problems. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 20(1), 41–50.

Lin, J.-C., & Yi, J. K. (1997). Asian international students’ adjustment: Issues and program suggestions. College Student Journal, 31, 473–482.

Magolda, M. B. B. (1992). Knowing and reasoning in college: Gender-related patterns in students’ intellectual development. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Mahmood, H. (2014). An analysis of acculturative stress, sociocultural adaptation, and satisfaction among international students at a non-metropolitan university [Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Western Kentucky University]. TopSCHOLAR.

Mamiseishvili, K. (2012). International student persistence in U.S. postsecondary institutions. Higher Education, 64, 1–17.

Martirosyan, N., Hwang, E., & Wanjohi, R. (2015). Impact of English proficiency on academic performance of international students. Journal of International Students, 5(1), 60–71.

Matthews, D. (2017, April 27). Why Germany educates students for free. Inside Higher Ed.

Moore, K. A., Rutherford, C., & Crawford, K. A. (2016). Supporting postsecondary English language learners’ writing proficiency using technological tools. Journal of International Students, 6(4), 857–872.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators. (2019, November 18). New

international data:Despite stagnant enrollment, international students

contribute nearly $41 billion to the U.S, economy. Retrieved April 17, 2020,


Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students: Vol. 2, A third decade of research. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Pearson. (2019). Diversity matters.

Perry, W. G., Jr. (1968). Patterns of development in thought and values of students in a liberal arts college: A validation of a scheme. U.S. Department of Health, Education & Welfare.

Perry, W. G., Jr. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: A scheme. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Perry, W. G., Jr. (1981). Cognitive and ethical growth: The making of meaning. In P. G. Altbach, K. Arnold, & I. C. King (Eds.), College student development and academic life (pp. 48–88). Routledge.

Ruiz, N. G., & Budiman, A. (2018, May 10). Federal training program sees 400% increase in foreign students graduating and working in STEM fields from 2008 to 2016.

Safipour, J., Wenneberg, S., & Hadziabdic, E. (2017). Experience in education in the international classroom—A systematic literature review. Journal of International Students, 7(3), 806–824.

Saidi-Kuehnert, J. (2016, December 31). The many benefits of international students on U.S. campuses. ACEI-Global.

Shih, K. Y. (2015). The impact of international students on U.S. graduate education.

Singh, M. K. M. (2015). International graduate students’ academic writing practices in Malaysia: Challenges and solutions. Journal of International Students, 5(1), 12–22.

Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2007). Using multivariate statistics (5th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Terenzini, P., Pascarella, E. T., & Blimling, G. S. (1996). Students’ out-of-class

experiences and their influence on learning and cognitive development: A

literature review. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2), 149–162.

Trice, A. G. (2003). Faculty perceptions of graduate international students: The benefits and the challenges. Journal of Studies in International Education, 7, 379–403.

University of California. (2012a). Structure and content of UCUES. Retrieved from

University of California. (2012b). 2012 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey.

University of California. (2012c). The University of California undergraduate experience survey (UCUES).

University of California School of Education. (n.d.). UCSB writing program. Retrieved April 17, 2020, from

VanLehn, K. (1996). Cognitive skill acquisition. Annual Review of Psychology, 47, 513–539.

Wan, G. (2001). The learning experience of Chinese students in American universities: A cross-cultural perspective. College Student Journal, 35(1), 28–45.

Wilson, R. C., Woods, L., & Gaff, J. G. (1974). Social-psychological accessibility and faculty-student interaction beyond the classroom. Sociology of Education, 47(1), 74–92.

Xi, W. (2000, September/October). Develop and utilize the resources of Chinese students in the United States. Chinese Education and Society, 33(5), 21–30.

Zhang, L. (1999). A comparison of U.S. and Chinese university students’ cognitive development: The cross-cultural applicability of Perry’s theory. The Journal of Psychology, 133, 425–439.

Zhang, Y., & Mi, Y. (2010). Another look at the language difficulties of international students. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14, 371–388.




How to Cite

Curtis, C. J. (2020). The Predictors of Cognitive Skills Development Among International Students: Background Characteristics, Precollege Experiences, and Current College Experiences. Journal of International Students, 10(2), 501–526.



Research Articles (English)