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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 announce the launch 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 first Voice of the Sector piece in the U.S., we are pleased to spotlight Martyn J. Miller, PhD.

Miller is the Assistant Vice President for Global Engagement at Temple University, overseeing the Center for American Language and Culture, the Center for Chinese Language and Instruction, International Student Affairs (ISA), and International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). An Arab-American fluent in (Levantine) Arabic and English, Miller was raised in Syria and Lebanon, so it’s not surprising that he also assists with international university partnership agreements and student recruiting in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Indian subcontinent.

He has held leadership positions in such organizations as the Georgia Association of International Educators, Georgia TESOL, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the Pennsylvania Council on International Education (PaCIE), and TESOL. He currently serves as immediate past-chair of StudyPA.

Miller was the recipient of the BMI Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in international education in 2019.

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

They Are Students, not Widgets: Intention and Responsibility in International Student Recruiting

By Martyn J. Miller

An alliance of agencies, institutions, and providers has come together to form the U.S. for Success Coalition, whose mission is “Fostering international student success through a coordinated national effort. U.S. for Success seeks to position the United States to effectively compete and cooperate on a global stage by attracting top talent and ensuring the success of all international students.”    

Recognizing that the U.S. currently lacks any such effort while the majority of higher education leaders across the world have— for at least the past three decades—joined with their government partners to invest in international education and that this lack has resulted in fewer international students pursuing university studies in the U.S., the coalition members have “identified seven interconnected goals that must be met to enable the U.S. higher education system to continue as the leading destination for the world’s global talent” (https://www.iie.org/news/us-for-success-coalition-launches-to-increase-and-diversify-international-student-success-in-the-us/).  

Finally, this coalition hopes to “offer critical resources to support higher education institutions in expanding opportunities for an increasing diversity of international students to succeed in the U.S.” (https://www.usforsuccess.org/).  

In its “Survey on a National Strategy for U.S. International Education,” IDP Education, a coalition member, reminds respondents of the many potential benefits to “position[ing] the United States to effectively compete and cooperate on a global stage by attracting top talent and ensuring the success of all international students”:  

  • Improved perception of the U.S. as a welcoming and accessible study destination 

  • An increase in number of students participating in international education (inbound and outbound) 

  • Greater access to and diversity in U.S. international education 

  • Securing U.S. position as the leading study destination for international students 

  • Increased contributions to American research and innovation 

  • Development of a skilled, globally aware, interculturally competent U.S. workforce 

  • Increased contribution to the American economy (supporting jobs and businesses) 

  • Contribution to the social good by enriching the learning environment and introducing global perspectives 

Because the primary audience of the coalition’s work is leaders of businesses, government agencies, and higher education institutions, it is sometimes difficult for the international student recruiter, the “road warrior,” to recognize her role in achieving these goals. In fact, the international student recruiter who is tasked with visiting international high schools, attending interminable education “fairs” across the world, and generating as many leads as possible while at those schools and in those fairs is often forgotten altogether in conversations about achieving such goals.  It is, however, imperative that we remember that the recruiter can have a positive (or negative) impact on both an “Increased contribution to the American economy (supporting jobs and businesses)” and a “contribution to the social good by enriching the learning environment and introducing global perspectives.”   

Also overlooked in these conversations is that the first interaction an international high school or university student seeking to pursue a U. S. education has with the higher education system is often with that same international student recruiter, but the transitory and transactional nature of student recruiting makes it difficult for the recruiter to see the impact she can have in the student’s life beyond the recruiting and admission cycle.  That is, though the recruiter can quantify her role in achieving the goals of “effectively compet[ing] and cooperat[ing] on a global stage” and “attracting top talent” by showing progression from lead to application to enrollment, rarely does that recruiter also recognize her role in “ensuring the success of all international students.” 

To do so requires that the recruiter be motivated by and act in support of both goals, remembering that while she bears a responsibility to her employer, the primary responsibility should be the student’s “economy” and the student’s “social good.” And that motivation must be both intentional and authentic, for the students whom the recruiter meets immediately recognize when it is neither. 

Authentic conversations often begin with an authentic question. Opening, for example, with “Let me tell you why you should study at Midtown State University” or even asking “What do you want to study?” forces the conversation in one way; but offering a more general welcome like “How can I help you?” offers a student the opportunity to talk more about what she needs than what the recruiter thinks the student needs. And once the student recognizes that he, not the recruiter or employer, is the subject of the conversation, the time together becomes more valuable for the student and recruiter alike. 

The international student recruiter also needs to recognize and seize upon the opportunity to create authentic connections even when there is no transactional benefit to the university or its representative. The ten-minute conversation at a high school that results in an application and enrollment should be judged as no more (or less) valuable than the one-hour conversation that results in the student’s understanding that the recruiter’s school is not the right fit for the student. Talking a student into applying to a particular school can be equally valuable to the student as talking her out of applying. Recently, one prospective applicant concluded the longest, multi-day conversation this writer has had with, “I may not end up applying to your school, but I have learned more about myself during our conversations than from any other conversations I have had about school.” For any professional in the education world, that acknowledgement should be sufficient reward in and of itself.  

In another instance, at a recent school visit, after the upper classes had spoken with the college representatives, younger students happened upon the fair at the same time when lunch was delivered for the representatives, forcing them to choose between lunch and speaking with the younger students. One representative chose to stay at the table and enjoyed an extended conversation with six students who are years away from being suspects or prospects, but who may, when they are ready to apply, remember the conversation and may even remember the representative’s school name. More importantly, as the group was packing up to leave for yet another school in the never-ending schedule, the college counselor stopped at the representative’s table to say, “I just want to let you know that we noticed who stayed behind to speak with the students once the lunch had arrived, and the students told me they noticed, too.” 

To close, road warriors, distracted though they are by other priorities and metrics (or by a cell phone or by a good book), need to remember that intention and responsibility are paramount in successful international student recruiting. Once the student’s best interest becomes the top priority for the recruiter and for all those to whom the recruiter is beholden, and once we collectively work toward achieving the student’s best interest, we all work toward achieving the goals of “effectively compet[ing] and cooperat[ing] on a global stage” and “attracting top talent” but, most importantly, of “ensuring the success of all international students.” 

CP - Image - Martyn J. Miller
Martyn J. Miller05 March 2024