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Introducing 'Voice of the Sector'

As the global leader in international education, IDP is committed to advancing the sector in collaboration with our university and college partners and with an ever-increasing set of stakeholders and change-makers across education policy. To support this mission, IDP is pleased to share the latest installment of our new thought leadership initiative, ‘Voice of the Sector’. This initiative serves as a platform for industry leaders across North America to share insights and perspectives on key topics in international education that currently shape and affect the industry. It aims to spark important conversations within the global educational community to drive change.

For the second Voice of the Sector piece in the U.S., we are pleased to spotlight Dr. Bryan Gross.

Dr. Gross is the Vice President for Enrollment Management and Athletics at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY, leading innovative strategies to enhance the quality and diversity of the College’s enrollment management and financial aid optimization plans. One of his primary responsibilities is to develop partnerships locally, nationally and internationally that strengthen the College’s position in the market that lead to positive college-going rates and student success outcomes.

Prior to Hartwick College, Dr. Gross served as vice president for enrollment management and marketing, and as interim vice president of student affairs at Western New England University in Springfield, MA. He was also the associate vice president of enrollment management at St. John’s University in Queens, NY and associate vice president of admissions, dean of admissions, and director of international admissions at the University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, CT.

A national and international thought leader, Dr. Gross is a regular presenter, contributor and researcher to articles and workshops on enrollment management, leadership and collaboration, student belonging, international student mobility, and financial aid. He has been a co-principal investigator for a National Science Foundation grant and has served as an executive board member and treasurer of the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC).

Dr. Gross earned a doctorate in organizational change and leadership from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. His dissertation examined how collaboration among senior higher education leaders can facilitate positive revenue outcomes at regional and private institutions. Gross also holds a master’s degree from Springfield College and a bachelor’s degree from The Pennsylvania State University.

We hope you enjoy our Voice of the Sector series, and that the insights shared by sector leaders spark important conversations in international education.

Christine Wach, SVP, Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, North America, IDP Connect

The World as Our Campus: Embracing a Holistic International Enrollment Strategy

By Dr. Bryan Gross

As the morning sunlight filtered through my office window I found myself in a conversation with a new student from Nepal. She had just arrived at Hartwick College, drawn by the promise of a community that values both intellectual growth and natural beauty. I was also new to Hartwick. She had a lot of questions, and to be honest, I knew I wouldn’t have all the answers. I am not sure who was more nervous as we began the conversation. However, as we spoke, our gaze often drifted to the panoramic view of Oyaron Hill, its serene beauty a silent yet powerful presence in our meeting.

"I've always felt a deep connection to the mountains," she suddenly shared, her voice tinged with a mix of nostalgia and awe. "Back home, just outside Kathmandu, the mountains aren't just landscapes; they are sacred, living entities. The Himalayas, especially the breathtaking vistas of the Annapurna range, are places where the earth touches the sky."

I nodded, understanding completely. "It’s much the same feeling here," I replied. "Oyaron Hill, with its sweeping views, holds a similar spiritual significance for us in Oneonta. It’s as if the land around us now echoes the sanctity of your distant Himalayan peaks."

We both smiled, recognizing the unexpected yet profound connection between her home and this new chapter of her life at Hartwick. It was a moment of mutual recognition—a shared acknowledgment that although separated by thousands of miles, the spiritual essence of our homelands was intertwined, each offering a backdrop against which to ponder life's larger questions and one's place within it.

This encounter underscores the universal language of nature and spirituality, but it also struck me in another profound way: our conversation was a vivid illustration of the seismic shifts occurring in the demographics of higher education. Here I was, in the rolling hills of Oneonta, New York, connecting with a student from halfway around the world, both of us freshly navigating a global higher education landscape that has drastically changed from just a decade ago with perhaps more questions than answers.

For enrollment professionals across the United States, the shifting demographics in our own backyard are a mere echo of the global movements in population and education trends. As the Vice President for Enrollment Management and Athletics at Hartwick College, I’ve observed firsthand the importance of understanding these global demographic trends and integrating them into a holistic international enrollment management plan. Yet, it baffles me why more institutions have not embraced this necessary perspective.

In the United States, we are facing a demographic cliff. You know this by now. Data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education predict a significant decline in the number of high school graduates starting around 2025, primarily due to lower birth rates following the 2008 economic recession. This decline is not uniformly distributed; the Northeast, in particular, is expected to see one of the steepest drops. At the same time, international student mobility patterns are shifting. Countries like India and China, which have traditionally been the largest senders of international students, are rapidly expanding their own higher education capacities, and students from these regions are looking beyond the traditional allure of American education towards other growing academic hubs in Europe and Asia.

The challenge here is twofold: not only must we mitigate the impacts of domestic demographic declines, but we also need to position ourselves attractively in a competitive international market that is more discerning and diverse than ever before. This situation calls for U.S. colleges and universities to think critically about the relationship between domestic demographic trends and global educational shifts. It's not just about filling seats but about enriching our campuses with a diverse set of global perspectives that enhance the learning experience for all students.

Surprisingly, many institutions still operate under a domestic-first mindset with international recruitment as an afterthought—a risky stance that could lead to significant enrollment challenges. The need for a strategic, data-driven international enrollment plan has never been greater. Such a plan should not only focus on recruitment but also on the holistic integration of international students into the campus community, ensuring their retention and success.

By broadening our perspective and operational scope, we can transform these demographic challenges into opportunities for growth and innovation. International students bring not only diversity but also resilience and new viewpoints that can invigorate classroom discussions and campus life. Furthermore, they contribute significantly to the local and national economy.

My poignant interaction with a new student from Nepal underscores the profound impact that an integrated enrollment management (IEM) plan can have—not only in attracting students from diverse backgrounds but in resonating with their deepest aspirations and values. Just as the spiritual connection to our landscapes can evoke a sense of belonging and purpose, a well-crafted IEM plan ensures that every student’s educational journey is deeply personal and profoundly connected to the heart of the institution.

As demographic landscapes shift both at home and abroad, it is imperative for enrollment leaders - even the “domestic-first” ones - to foster a deeper understanding of global geo demographic trends and their interconnected impacts. By doing so, we not only secure our institutions’ futures but also enhance our educational missions. Our goal should be to make every campus a reflection of the world itself—diverse, interconnected, and vibrant. It’s time for all of us in the field of enrollment management to look beyond our borders and see the world as our campus.

CP - Image - Bryan Gross
Bryan Gross11 June 2024