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With 2020 thankfully in our rear view mirror, it’s time to look forward and apply important lessons learned from the past year (or four depending on how you feel) as it relates to international student recruitment. The impact of Covid-19 on international higher education is vast and will have long-lasting implications for how we do what we do. Importantly, the pandemic has thrust into the spotlight several key elements of student recruitment that have previously been underutilized or ignored in international admission plans.
Having worked with a number of institutions in developing recruitment strategies, it’s abundantly clear that few colleges have anything more than a single year “plan” to bring in new overseas students. Either they don’t have the bandwidth or budget, or they need to think strategically in developing longer-term plans. This series focuses on what I believe are the six Ps of strategic international enrollment management. Everyone knows (or should know) the 4 Ps of Marketing (Price, Product, Place, and Promotion). Those are the “whats” most colleges know-- they have at least a basic idea of what they are selling. Over the next six months, we will examine the strategic how’s, why’s, and where’s of what strategic international enrollment management (SIEM) should be, starting with Perspective.
Before beginning any serious attempts at strategic planning, international admissions and ISSS offices must have the right perspective on their institution’s values in regard to internationalization. Understanding these values matters: In times of trouble or uncertainty, being able to tie your goals and plans back to institutional priorities provides a firm foundation on which to develop a longer-term strategy.
Ask yourself how your college’s commitment to international students, global education, cultural diversity, etc. manifests itself in mission/vision statements, values, and institutional strategic planning. Are there specific references to what you do and the kinds of students you recruit for your institution? Is there a VP or Dean for Global Education that oversees your area and has a seat at the president’s council? Who are your fellow international ed champions on campus? How can you work more collaboratively across your institution to provide the level of support needed to care for your international students once they arrive?
As our colleagues at NAFSA have shared in a recent article, working with your on-campus partners during this pandemic can actually bear immediate fruit when everyone is pitching in toward the common goal of caring for students. Living out your institutional mission as it applies to international students provides exactly the right course for your SIEM plans as you navigate changing seas.
If there’s one thing that international admissions reps have realized more acutely over the last four years (and without question during the pandemic), it would be that international students have realistic higher ed options beyond the United States. The fact that international student mobility is a global enterprise with an increasingly crowded field, where students have multiple options from many countries, is rarely understood and applied by colleges in their recruitment planning. A piece I wrote in 2018 on how various prospective student surveys can and should inform your planning is even more relevant today.
Much like the recent IDP Connect Crossroads III data showed in November, students looking at the top English-speaking destinations are likely to switch countries for their intended studies should conditions not be favorable for face-to-face instruction. Gone are the days when prospective international students consider only one nation as they make their higher ed plans. As international admissions representatives, we must not only know our own institution’s strengths, but we also must be able to articulate why the United States, as a destination, represents an appealing choice for overseas audiences.
Aye, there’s the rub. In this unique world we find ourselves in today, will the same tired emails touting our college’s strengths alone convince students that we understand their hopes and dreams, can meet their expectations and deliver on our promises? Odds are the answer is no. What, then, is the way forward? How can we apply this joint understanding of both our internal and external perspectives of our field to how we communicate with international students?
To truly move in a new direction, our messaging should focus, from the outset, on an awareness that students clearly have several choices in terms of destination countries for their studies. Moreover, time must be spent articulating the U.S.’s competitive advantages (quality, diversity, campus experiences, OPT). And finally, as you continue the conversation with students, demonstrate how your institution can maximize their experience on campus to prepare them for the world once they graduate.
For most, this approach will require a change in perspective as to how you view your future students. In the end, when we see the world through others’ eyes, we grow closer to achieving what we claim our institutions do – bridge cultural divides and forge a path forward together on this changing planet.
Next month, we’ll examine what planning looks like with this new perspective.