Retaining International Students, Part 3: Advancement

International StudentsHow, exactly, can colleges and universities advance to successfully recruit – and graduate – international students?

We’ve focused, over the past two posts, on attracting and – even more importantly – retaining international students at colleges and universities.

We’ve labored under the valid assumption that all colleges and universities see the value and benefits of attracting a student body from all corners of the globe. But we’ve also pointed out how very often our college administrations fall short of ensuring international students advance, graduate and move on to productive careers.

In our July 15 post, we suggested student progression and graduate is the only true measure of any enrollment management program.

In our July 22 post, we looked at the difficulty faced by the new vice-president for international programs at Mythical University when presented with the task of developing a program to increase by 10 percent the enrollment and graduation of international students and to increase by 10 percent the number of Ol’ Myth students who, in turn, study abroad.

So, here we are in Week Three, one year later in the life of Mythical U., and the V.P.. for international programs was able to report to the university president and board of trustees: some major accomplishments, including the creation of an International Affairs Committee, a task force to oversee the recruitment and retention of international students.

International Affairs Committee

  • A monthly meeting of representatives from the admission, student affairs, retention services, career services, alumni and fundraising offices, was created. Between meetings committee members were asked to collaborate on how to integrate their administrative functions to provide better services to international students.


  • The offices of admission and student services determined who in the student services department would communicate directly with international students and parents after letters of acceptance were mailed. In effect, the action moved from admission to student services. The staff in that office is partially responsible for “closing the deal.”
  • The admission and student services departments shared information on the parents of current international students who have agreed to speak or meet with prospective international parents.
  • The alumni staff shared information with the international admission recruiters on international graduates.
  • The career counseling staff shared information with the international recruiters on the job placements of recent international graduates.
  • The director of retention services reported monthly on the progression of all new and returning international students. A specific staff member in the department was made responsible for coordinating outreach to any international student in academic difficulty.
  • The director of alumni affairs shared a list with committee members of all international graduates. International recruiters have this information when they travel abroad and whenever possible, meet with international graduates to seek assistance with recruitment activities and internship possibilities.
  • The admission office shared with the fundraising office information on potential “friends” of Mythical U. (This information is shared only after students are accepted and enrolled.) Plans are in place for next year for the vice presidents of advancement and international programs to meet with potential international donors.
  • The vice president for international programs created a database of all existing articulation and combined degree agreements. A standard protocol was developed for all future international agreements and everyone on the committee was given a set of the new guidelines. Mythical U’s legal department signed off on the protocol and all international admission recruiters were given copies to take on future international trips.
  • All agreements are now “housed” in the vice president’s office and no one, apart from the vice president, is permitted to sign off on future arrangements.
  • The same policy is followed with regard to future study abroad agreements.
  • The vice president created a database of all current international students and graduates and that information is shared with all committee members.
  • The vice-president’s research assistant compiled a list with the following international statistics: number and percent of current international students and countries of origin, number of international graduates and countries of origin, number of international faculty and countries of origin, and the number and names of all international courses.  This information is shared with all international recruiters.
  • The vice president created a Board of International Advisors, composed of local and international alumni. The Board meets once a year on the campus of Mythical U and is charged with helping the school recruit students, create international internships, and identify potential international donors.
  • An annual report of the committee’s activities is shared with the entire campus in January and June.

Not bad for one year’s work!

Retaining International Students

international studentsAny experienced enrollment manager knows that enrolling students, U.S. students or international students, is just the first step.

Student progression and graduation is the true measure of the success of any enrollment management program.

According to the Institute of International Education, there are 40% more international students at American colleges than there was a decade ago. It is no surprise that a study of the enrollment and transfer patterns of this group of students would be a topic of great interest.

At a recent conference of international educators sponsored by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NAFSA) , the results of a nationwide survey on international student retention was shared with conference participants. Responses were obtained from 500 educators and 500 students at more than 100 colleges.

Among the findings, as reported by Dr. Rahul Choudaha, the project’s lead researcher, are the following:

  • U.S. college administrators and educators maintain that the primary reasons for international students dropping out were related to finances, academics, English language problems, and a desire to attend a college or university that was somehow considered a “better” fit.
  • The students who were surveyed cited employment, internships and scholarships as the chief reasons for dropping out.
  • Clearly there are different expectations on the part of college officials and international students.

There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Few international recruitment programs include information on what a college or university does to keep the student after acceptance and enrollment.
  • Few international recruitment programs are tied to international student services, international alumni or career counseling programs.
  • Few colleges and universities have separate offices or staff to administer specific student progression and retention services to international students.
  • Too often, prospective international applicants are not given enough information before they apply and too often international recruiters do not have the proper information to share.

This will surely change as more and more institutions continue to reach out to an international student population.

So what could and should change?

The following practical suggestions are based on the strategic international recruitment
plan I have shared with several colleges and universities and also from the practical suggestions I offer in my book, A Practical Guide to Enrollment and Retention Management in Higher Education, and the suggestions offered to international students in my book, The New College Guide: How to Get In, Get Out and Get a Job.

Let’s begin with the questions I ask international students to ask before they apply to any College GuideU.S. college or university:

  • International students should know the number and percentage of international students and the countries of origin. Who are the “typical” international student and graduate?
  • Is there an international student organization that can provide information to prospective international students?
  • What institutional aid is available to international students? How many international students receive scholarship or on-campus employment?
  • International applicants should have a list of international alumni and job titles to contact for information.
  • Each college or university on the student’s list should provide a complete list of all student services for students from abroad.
  • Housing and roommate assignments can be a deal breaker for many students and can wreck a student’s first semester. How are rooms assigned?
  • Is there a special orientation for international students and parents?
  • Counseling services and how the school handles issues of homesickness and campus safety should be clear.

As a former vice president for enrollment, retention and international programs, I had the good fortune to be able to streamline administrative functions while simultaneously providing specific retention services to international students.

More about that in next week’s blog. Stay tuned.

Reinventing Your University

university studentsReinventing your university may be the only way it can move forward in the 21st Century.

In the book, Reinventing the University – Managing and Financing Higher Educationeach of the 14 contributors emphasize that the successful university of the future will be the one which has the capacity to create new structural paradigms which will direct how it conducts business and how it delivers its educational product.

The newly structured enterprise will be both seamless and transparent in the systems and administrative structures used to deliver services to students.

This week’s message, similar to the one of last week, celebrates those innovative colleges and universities with dynamic leaders who are willing to initiate change in an attempt to make the college experience a better one for those who attend, who teach and who administer.

Over the course of my administrative career, I had the opportunity for a brief period of time, to manage both the enrollment management and alumni and fundraising departments for my university.

The reporting structure was unique and would not work in today’s environment but it did, for a time, reveal that hardened “functional silos” could become more flexible and transparent.

The lack of bureaucracy made it possible to respond quickly to enrollment demands and donor requests. There was a consistent and integrated marketing message from the time of a student’s application to the time after graduation. The internal and external messages were consistent, reinforcing the school’s image among its key constituencies. The systems from student enrollment to alumni involvement were both seamless and transparent.

Consider the similarities between the advancement and enrollment functions:

  • Both are labor intensive and customer service directed
  • Success for both functions is measured in concrete numbers.
  • The image of the institution heavily influences the work of both departments
  • Both are revenue driven
  • Both departments require staff with good analytical, organizational and people-oriented skills
  • Both are subject to the economic realities of the day.

I am not suggesting that this model would or could be adopted by other schools. But I am suggesting that changing administrative responsibilities and reporting structures should be considered.

In 1998, Spencer Johnson wrote, Who Moved My Cheese,The popular bestseller championed the need for change. The author stressed that change involves setting different rules, making the work environment uncertain and unpredictable. How much of what Mr. Johnson wrote 16 years ago would apply to many colleges and universities today?

Fundraising and Career Counseling

Career CounselingFrequent readers of this blog know I am a big supporter of elevating career counseling centers within the ranks of the higher education pecking order.

So when Melissa Korn, a writer at The Wall Street Journal, reported about the marriage of fundraising offices with career counseling offices in several colleges and universities, I knew I would share this information with you.

Many schools folded their career centers into their development offices. Amherst College in Massachusetts, for example, changed the reporting structure a few months ago. Colgate University in Hamilton, New York; Williams College in Massachusetts and Scripps College in Claremont, California, will all make the change July 1st. Two years ago, the University of Chicago merged career services, admissions and enrollment management with the advancement office.

Students are assigned career counselors in the first year and admission counselors meet with potential employers as they travel around the country and the world for next year’s class. Alumni and fundraising staff have a wealth of information on graduates who may be able to provide internships or even jobs to graduates.

Combined budgets make for more robust career counseling outreach activities. Giving career centers a seat at the table is long overdue.

Whether you agree or not, parents and prospective college students are asking questions about a school’s career services before they apply. Keeping that function separate from the enrollment management and alumni and fundraising functions, seems obsolete given the economic realities not just in the United States but around the world.

Change comes slow in higher education and disruptive change even slower. Turf wars are inevitable and administrative silos exist on every college campus.

I hope one person reading this week’s blog has both the vision and determination to consider making career services an essential part of marketing, enrollment management and alumni and fundraising. Consider the synergy!

College recruitment: from or to Asia?

Students from AsiaWithin 10 years, Asia will be the home to three of the world’s four largest economies and what that means for higher education is profound.

I’m not here to argue one way or another any kind of shift in international higher education migration away from Europe and the U.S. to Asia. But any college or university who recruits international students in Asia will be interested in the following trends:*

  • Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea are emerging as contenders in attracting international students from other Asian countries.
  • China plans to host 300,000 students by 2020.
  • According to IIE, in 2012, there were more foreign students in China than in Australia and Germany.
  • An increasing number of students from Korea are enrolling in Chinese colleges and universities.
  • Malaysian students are opting to study in Indonesia.
  • An increased number of students from the Middle East are enrolling in Malaysia  schools to study.
  • International student enrollment is increasing in the Philippines with students from South Korea, China, Taiwan and Iran.
  • Education Singapore is a newly-created agency charged with promoting and marketing education in Singapore to help meet the government’s target of enrolling over 1 million international students by 2015.
  • Japan has set a goal of hosting 3 million students by 2020.

*Source: Student Mobility and the Internationalization of Higher Education, Project Atlas.

Implications for Future Asian Recruitment

  • As Asian colleges and universities improve in rankings and services, students in the region are more likely to enroll in Asian schools.
  • Colleges and universities who are recruiting in Asia should consider developing international partnerships, as opposed to establishing branch campuses. Combined degree programs and carefully constructed articulation agreements are ways of strengthening ties with Asian schools.
  • Developing hybrid programs and online programs with schools in Asia is one way to continue enrolling students from the region.

If colleges and universities want to maintain current international student enrollment numbers the regions most fruitful may be the whole of Africa and the nation of Iran.