In 2017, international students contributed $42 billion to the US economy. These international students and graduates also bring the brainpower of hundreds of thousands of STEM, business, social science, health, communications, creative, and other professionals into the fold of problem-solving, innovating, diversifying, and propelling America into a better future.
There are many reasons why it is important to continue to diversify our student population, whether it be for economic, cultural, scientific, social, or knowledge value. But the general upward trend of the number of new international students enrolled in US institutions since the early 2000s has begun its decline over the past 3 years. Since the 2015-2016 academic year, new international graduate enrollment saw nearly a 7% drop, and new international undergraduate enrollment saw a 9% drop.
Not only are enrollment numbers slipping, but so is America’s dominating hold of the global higher education market. Even though the US still has seven of the top ten spots in global university rankings, the number of US schools in the top 200 dropped from 72 to 60.
Institute of International Education. (2017). “New International Student Enrollment, 2006/07-2016/17.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors
Uncertainty about the future of immigration and immigration policy has surely contributed to this decline, alongside cost and potential physical and psychological dangers. However, there are still ways to make a good impression on and persuade prospective international students.
There are many ways to appeal to international students, but there are 5 major concepts to consider when planning your international recruitment plans.
1. International students don’t have as many opportunities to visit colleges and universities
Students who live in America prior to going to college have the advantage of considering “fit and feel” when choosing an institution. There are also many personal factors such as proximity to home, college sports teams, parental influence, identification with the campus and community, or intentions to engage socially with the population (Greek life, student body, intramural or collegiate level sports, friends who attend the same school, etc.) that can help students choose the right school.
In addition, US students have the advantage of being able to physically visit multiple campuses. The general recommendation from college counselors is for students to visit five or six potential colleges, and US students average about three college visits before deciding where to apply or attend. This is a costly task for US families—the investments for international students to visit colleges are astronomical and most international families do not have the benefits of unlimited time and money to do so.
Find ways to highlight campus life in realistic and personal ways in prospective students' native languages. Demonstrate the value of your programs in ways that encourage them to picture themselves as a part of your campus and student body. You could go as far as the University of Wisconsin-Platteville did by transcribing their recruitment content in both Spanish and Chinese. Another option can be to hire an international intern or student assistant to help navigate the social media channels of their native countries. Any way that you can reach international students in their languages without being offensively incorrect or culturally insensitive will demonstrate your emphasis on their importance.
2. International students value brand recognition for schools and their top programs
International students do not get as much exposure to the variety of quality universities and colleges as US students do. Most international students trend towards globally ranked institutions with programs that consistently rank highest in the respective fields. Global rankings (i.e. Times, QS), as well as US-based rankings (i.e. US News, Princeton Review), play an important role in “brand” exposure simply by letting prospective students know you exist.
When your institution grows new fields of study or considers which majors to promote, it is always important to consider fields that are of interest to not only US students, but international students as well. For example, OPT is a program that offers specific foreign graduates of US institutions the ability to stay and work in the US; between 2004 and 2016, over half of all participants entered into STEM fields. This demonstrates the high interest internationally in American STEM and even STEAM based programs.
3. International students should be acknowledged as individuals, not as statistics
Personalization in recruitment tactics has been the answer when marketing to US gen-z students, but often there is only a slight emphasis on international students. It is difficult to personalize international recruitment with the sheer number of countries and cultures that exist. Additionally, with the different strategies and costs involved in marketing internationally, it is important to make small changes that can generate a profound impact.
Take Cornell Engineering’s video that highlights their diverse student body. Cornell Engineering executed one of the simplest tactics to reach international students: peer-to-peer communication. They put the spotlight on several different students, all with different international backgrounds, and made the focus of the video their experiences as individuals and how they fit into Cornell Engineering’s story. This is a level of personalization that can make an emotional impact on any international recruit, regardless of which country they are coming from. This brings “fit and feel” into one of the most emotional and life-changing investments of their lives.
4. International students must be cost-conscious
We all know how expensive international tuition is in addition to the cost of living, travel, and potentially permanent relocation to the US. In fact, the US has the second-highest annual international tuition and cost of living in the world.
Because of this, it is important to highlight financial aid and ways international students can benefit from your institution's resources. If there are achievement or need-based scholarships, grants, or awards for international students, make sure that information is readily available, approachable, and understandable. Go further by creating the value of attending your institution and demonstrating your efforts to help international students achieve their goals.
5. Overall, international students seek a safe and welcoming environment
Campus safety is on the minds of most Americans and definitely international students with the political, civil, and social issues facing us today. These all contribute to unrest and uneasiness, but by providing a safe, accepting, and rewarding place to seek knowledge and empower successful futures, you are helping individuals globally to excel and grow the world into a better, smarter place. Highlight your campus safety features and diversity initiatives when reaching out to international recruits.
StudentBridge has worked with over 150 colleges and universities to help convey this exact message across the country and the world. Contact us to see how a partnership can help you grow your international student body today.