Covid-19 and cohort marketing. What do they have in common?

March 10th, 2020 by



  Covid-19 and cohort marketing   What do they have in common?





Last year Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the Communist Party cadres to be prepared for unforeseen incidents (black swans) and uncontrollable rampages (gray rhinos) in the year to come.  On February 27th, Nikkei Asian Review reported the following: Covid-19, the black swan that began in Wuhan and flew to all parts of China then turned into a gray rhino stomping across national borders to all parts of the world.

Although I would use a pencil when writing about the short-term and long-term implications of Covid-19, it is apparent that the virus has disrupted the economies of countries worldwide. We live in a world of vertiginous events, with norms constantly unraveling. 

Higher education is not immune to worldwide economic, political and health disruptions. The current “supply-chain” of the internationally mobile student has been disrupted. Covid-19 has changed what had been the norm for international student mobility. 

 For this reason, I believe international deans, educators and recruiters should consider an additional way of recruiting international students.                                 

Rationale for Cohort Marketing

Many of you reading this article have directly or indirectly been involved in recruiting domestic and international students. You have attended college fairs, collected individual information on prospective students, either in person or online, spent money purchasing lists of prospective college students or hired consulting firms to assist with yield management.

Many of you reading this article have been held solely responsible for meeting your institution’s enrollment and financial goals. Campuses throughout the world are littered with the bones of fired admission deans, international recruiters and enrollment managers.

What I am proposing in this article is adding another layer to current marketing plans: cohort marketing. 

Cohort marketing is not a bag of tricks or a series of quick fixes. It is however another way of looking at a current problem in higher education marketing, recruitment, and enrollment. 


Cohort marketing is recruiting groups of undergraduate and graduate students based on research and already-existing transfer, articulation and collaborative agreements.

Premise #1

One-by-one recruitment of students to meet enrollment and financial goals will not result in meeting these goals.

Premise #2

A cohort marketing team includes not only enrollment managers, deans and directors of undergraduate and graduate admission, but also brings to the table the dean or director of international students, the chief transfer officer, the director if financial aid, the director of research, the study abroad advisor and the director of alumni affairs.

Premise #3

A review of all current transfer and articulation agreements as well as all study abroad affiliations will reveal current schools in collaborative agreements that have the potential to enroll cohorts of students through 2-plus-2 arrangements for transfer or 3-plus-1 arrangements for degree completion.

Premise #4

Deans and directors of admission should identify high schools and local colleges that have the greatest potential for cohort marketing. Outreach to companies and organizations should also be investigated. 

Premise #5

Targeted outreach to students, through online learning, is another avenue to enroll cohorts of students, especially during the summer months.

Premise #6

The president, vice chancellor or provost should designate a senior administrator with the authority to sign future articulation, transfer or collaborative agreements. University counsel should also be involved in the process.

Premise #7

The director of alumni affairs as well as all academic deans should have a seat at the table when strategic enrollment plans are written.

Premise #8

A certain percentage of each semester’s new enrollment goals should be assigned to cohort markets.

Premise # 9

One designated administrator, perhaps from the research department, should be assigned the task of continually investigating potential student cohort markets.

Premise #10

Cohort marketing is not a static exercise, something that appears in an annual report. It is an evolving enterprise and should be continually reviewed as new opportunities arise. Outcomes should be shared with all appropriate members of the collegiate community. Success of this type of marketing should be reviewed not just in terms of enrollment but also which students recruited in groups progress and graduate.

Cohort Marketing Examples

The following are examples of cohort marketing that I initiated during my tenure as vice president for enrollment and international programs at Suffolk University in Boston.

International Campus – Suffolk University established a branch campus in Dakar and enrolled students from over 40 African countries. Students studied for two years in Dakar and then, as a group, transferred to Boston to complete their undergraduate degree: cohort marketing

Two-plus Two Agreement – Suffolk University partnered with Dean College, a local two-year school. While enrolled in Dean College, students were able to take Suffolk courses taught on the Dean College campus by Suffolk faculty. Suffolk University registered groups of Dean College students in Suffolk courses: cohort marketing

Suffolk University entered into an agreement with Shanghai Lixin University of Commerce. Suffolk faculty taught students enrolled in the articulation agreement program during the summer months. Groups of Chinese students registered for Suffolk University courses: cohort marketing.

 In cooperation with the registrar and the international enrollment staff, Suffolk University created an online “third semester” in the summer for Suffolk business students focusing on the courses still needed by many of the students to graduate. Groups of students, principally from the Middle East, enrolled in courses while at home for the summer: cohort marketing.

How to begin  – Ten suggestions

Obtain presidential or vice chancellor support

Be certain all appropriate staff understand the need for change

Include all staff necessary for successful execution of cohort marketing

Include faculty in all cohort marketing discussions

Coordinate cohort marketing with academic objectives

Have a clear understanding of the student cohorts most likely to enroll and why

Access relevant data and research when drafting cohort marketing strategies

Concentrate on producing a few, well-targeted results

Conduct an audit of cohort marketing strategies every three months and adjust, if necessary

Give cohort marketing time to develop and mature  


In an opinion article written in The South China Morning Post on March 3rd, Lawrence J. Law wrote: “We must rethink our travel and global supply chain.” I would suggest that this same sentiment is applicable to future international student mobility.

 I trust I have painted a vision in this article with words and suggestions that carries the argument for adding to current international recruitment practices another method for recruiting international students to your campuses.  For international deans and recruiters, buffeted by the uncertainty caused by Covid-19, a shift in perspective that encourages something completely new is not iconoclasm but it is a tocsin call to change.



What did we learn about China’s international collaborations

March 3rd, 2020 by


What did we learn about China’s worldwide international collaborations in 2019 and what can we expect in 2020?


Article # 3

China increased its number of worldwide international collaborations.

What did we learn in:


Building on China’s US $5 trillion investment in the One Belt, One Road initiative, China signed agreements with colleges and universities in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The goal is to create a network of potential students to enroll in Chinese universities, establish exchange programs, develop research collaborations, and inaugurate branch campuses.

Of the top 15 countries enrolling students in China, 10 were from Belt and Road countries.

 IN 2018, a consortium of universities collaborated to form the University Consortium of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. In 2019 China strengthened this collaboration with 60 institutions from Europe, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States.

The Asian Universities Alliance was designed to strengthen collaboration between China and countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. Joining Tsinghua University in this Alliance is Peking University, the University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, the National University of Singapore, and the University of Malaysia. 

An agreement signed in December 2019 between China and Hungary allowed Fudan University to replace the Central European University in Hungary.

In September 2019 the Chinese Academy of Sciences signed a memorandum of understanding with the African Academy of Sciences to collaborate on research, skills development, and technology transfer.  

What can we expect in:


China will use the Fudan campus in Hungary to gain a foothold in central and eastern Europe.

China and Hungary will create a joint technology transfer center in Chongqing that will focus on renewable energy and wastewater management.

China will continue to establish branch campuses around the world, especially in Belt and Road countries.

Chang’an University, one of China’s best schools for road, bridge, and automobile engineering, increased the number of overseas students from 409 in 2013 to 1,600 in 2019. Expect the number of overseas students in Chng’an University to increase in 2020. 

Expect a more robust research collaboration between Singapore University of Technology and Design and Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics.

Expect increased enrollment in Chinese institutions of students from South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Japan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. 

Expect additional Chinese branch campuses to be established worldwide.

Expect robust collaboration with African universities. 

In 2018 Xinhua Education Investment Corporation purchased St. Paul’s College in Virginia, Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire, Bay State College in Massachusetts, and Dowling College in New York. Chinese investors will continue to purchase higher education institutions worldwide.


Marijk van der Wende, professor of higher education at Utrecht University’s faculty of law, economics, and government, is researching the implications of China’s collaborations around the world. Dr. van der Wende believes it is time for colleagues worldwide to regard China as one of the leaders in global higher education, research, and collaboration

Beyond the corridors of today lies a new world order. International deans and recruiters first need to agree that China’s ambitious higher education initiatives cannot be ignored or denied. China is no longer one of many players in higher education.

It is a major player. 

What did we learn about international higher education in 2019

February 25th, 2020 by

What did we learn about international higher education in 2019 and what can we expect in 2020?

Article # 2 

The international higher education landscape shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.

What did we learn in:


The worldwide geopolitical shifts that occurred in 2019 impacted international higher education and international student mobility. America’s retreat on the world stage, England’s Brexit problems, and China’s determination to make this “China’s century,” has resulted in a new world disorder. 

The Global Internship Conference held in Aukland in July 2019 predicted that “The future is the Pacific.”

International student enrollment in the U.S. declined 2.9 percent for undergraduate students,1.3 percent for international graduate students and 8 percent for international non-degree students. Enrollment in English language programs declined 25.9 percent.

The number of new international students decreased by 3.4 percent.

 IIE’s “Open Doors” reported that Chinese students, who make up one-third of all international student enrollments in the U.S. increased by 3.6 percent. However, in the previous year the growth in Chinese student enrollments was 6.8 percent. New Chinese student enrollment was basically flat.

A survey of U.S. colleges and universities for the fall 2019 semester revealed a 0.1 percent decline in new enrollments. 51 percent of the more than 500 institutions surveyed reported decreases.

Increased competition from regional educational hubs in China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore competed with the U.S. and UK for the internationally mobile student.

China, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan announced ambitious international student enrollment targets for 2019 and beyond.

A United Nations’ report forecasted that Asia and Africa will be the centers of economic and higher education gravity.

China exceeded its goal in 2019 of enrolling 500,000 international students by 2020. 

On January 3, 2019, the U.S. State Department announced it was closing all of its offices in China that promote American education.

Several U.S. colleges and universities closed, or re-negotiated, terms of agreement with Chinese’ Confucius Institutes.

China increased its higher education dominance in Asia by signing collaborative agreements with 15 universities throughout the continent.  Joining Tsinghua University in this Alliance were the University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, the National University of Singapore, and the University of Malaysia 

At the opening ceremony, Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong delivered the keynote address and predicted that the Asian Universities Alliance will:

 “Resolve regional and global problems and bring together outstanding talents with an international perspective to serve regional development.”

 What can we expect in:


China will move up from being the world’s fifth-leading study destination.

Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan will expand their ambitious international student enrollment goals and international recruitment strategies. 

Japan and South Korea will increase their international recruitment programs in Vietnam. 

The Philippines will realize an increase in international students from Japan and throughout Asia.

Japan will likely meet its goal of enrolling 300,000 international students in 2020. 

Proximity to home country, affordability, internship opportunities, and employability after graduation will dominate Asian international student enrollment.

The U.S. will continue to lose market share of the internationally mobile student.


The geopolitical shift from the west to the east has been occurring sub-rosa for many years.  This is not a one off. 

The rise of China on the world stage has changed the balance of power in the world and created new economic and geopolitical realities. Regardless of who wins the election in the U.S. in November, it will take years to unpack the perception of a country unwelcoming to international students. Perception trumps reality every time.

Students have options. So do colleges and universities in the west who have seen their market share of international students decline. But this is not the time for international deans and recruiters to rehearse a new way of thinking.  The dark alchemy of disruption in the world demands a new way of thinking and planning. Shifting realities require crafting international strategic plans that include online course offerings, in-country academic programs, robust internship and employment programs, international collaborations and combined degree programs.

I believe change is a permanent part of life. I especially believe this is true if you are responsible for crafting strategic international recruitment plans in 2020. 


Covid-19 A Great Disruptor

February 18th, 2020 by


 A Great Disruptor?


 Worldwide geopolitical, economic, societal, and health disruptions will disrupt international higher education. The coronavirus revealed just how much the global economy is linked and, by extension, how much international student mobility is linked to the world economy.


Covid-19 statistics as of 2.15.20

Note: The numbers change daily and by the time this article is published the numbers of affected and deceased persons will be different.

The Asian analyst and Time magazine contributor, Ian Brenner, reports the following:

 More than 2,000 Chinese are infected daily with the coronavirus and more than 1665 Chinese have died.  

A report from Lancet estimated that the number of coronavirus cases in Hubei province alone was 75,815. 

The virus has spread to at least 30 countries and more than 500 people have died. Japan reported 326 cases, Singapore recorded 72 infected people, and in Hong Kong 52 people have contracted the coronavirus. 14 Americans on a cononavirus-striken cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for covid-19.

BY the end of January, the World Health Organization declared covid-19 as a “global health emergency.”

 Impact of covid-19 on China’s economy and the world’s economy

The economic impact of the virus on China’s economy and the world’s economy cannot at this point in time be definitively measured or imagined. Regardless of when the virus is contained, the supply- chain of Chinese goods has been disrupted for the foreseeable future and history provides little guidance on the effects of disrupted supply chains.

The Chinese private sector, the source of most of the country’s economic growth and employment, has been hit the hardest. On February 2, 2020, the Kering Group, owner of Balenciaga, Gucci and other luxury brand items announced it was closing dozens of stores in China because customers were staying home. (Note: Chinese shoppers spend $100 billion annually on luxury brand goods.)

Small and medium size companies, which contribute more than 60% of China’s GDP and provide 80% of the jobs nationwide, fear foreign customers will shift orders from China to other countries because of the disruption and uncertainty of their goods and services. The duration of the coronavirus, not the severity, will determine how quickly suppliers can replace their inventories. 

 The center of the epidemic, Hubei province, where Wuhan is located manufactures most of the parts used in smartphones. An article in The Economist, predicts that global shipments of smartphones could be reduced by as much as 10% this year. 

Starbucks has shut half of its 4000-plus stores in China.

Chinese tourists spend $250 billion a year on travel. Covid-19 has halted tourism in and out of mainland China. An estimated 400,000 Chinese tourists are forecasted to cancel trips to Japan by the end of March. Singapore’s visitor arrivals have fallen between 25%-30% due to covid-19.

Slowed domestic activity and the curtailed movement of people and goods around the world has already disrupted the economies of countries worldwide. Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Italy and the United States have already reported disruptions. Hyundai has halted some of its car production in South Korea due to a lack of parts. So has Nissan in Japan.

Foxconn, which makes smartphones for Apple and Huawei, is working with a skeletal staff.

Global commerce hinges on China’s $14.55 trillion economy, one that represents 16% of the world’s economy, up from 4% when the SARS virus disrupted trade in 2003. According to some estimates, SARS took one to two percentage points off China’s GDP, which then cost one-quarter to one-third of a percentage point in global growth.  Some analysts estimate covid-19 will cause at least four times as large a loss to China’s economy than did SARS.

A growth rate of 5.6% GDP, critical to China’s achieving its centenary economic goal, now seems unlikely. Moody’s predicts a rate of growth closer to 5.3%.  Zhang Jun, Dean of the School of Economics at Fudan University, painting a worst case scenario, predicts that the virus may slow GDP growth in the first quarter of this year by a third or by half. Cary Huang, writing in the South China Morning Post paints an even gloomier picture of financial collapse, foreign exodus and large scale bankruptcy.

Jerome Powell, head of the United States Federal Reserve Board, in a speech made before legislators and business people on February 12, stated covid-19 has the potential to impact the world’s economy.

The virus will likely slow the implementation of the trade deal reached with the United States in January. It is unlikely that China will purchase an additional $200 billion of American goods over the next two years. 

The Chinese government has cancelled the East China Import and Export Commodity Fair in Shanghai and the Art Basel Show in Hong Kong. The Canton Fair, China’s oldest and biggest trade exposition, has suspended exhibitions. Contagion fears have forced cancellations of trade fairs across Asia.

Impact of covid-19 on Chinese student mobility

According to a recent report by Yojana Sharma, published on February 13, 2020, in University World News, a survey of counselors of the Beijing Overseas Study Association, two-thirds of those surveyed are forecasting a decline in the number of Chinese students studying abroad next year. Almost three-quarters of the agents reported fewer student consultations than in the previous year.

On January 27th, The Chinese Ministry of Education announced that English proficiency examinations, allowing Chinese students to apply to international colleges and universities, has been cancelled for February. ACT GMAT and GRE testing in mainland China has also been postponed.

100,000 potential Chinese students, scheduled to begin classes in Australia in February are now restricted by travel bans and may not be able to begin their studies for the current semester. Australia could lose up to a third of Chinese students if the travel ban continues.

Travel bans and visas blocks in Singapore, the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom will delay or cancel many of the Chinese students scheduled to study abroad in those countries for summer programs and in the fall semester. 

 Enrollment of students from China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative countries has slowed.

Depending on the longevity of the virus many Chinese families, negatively impacted by curtailed business activity, may no longer have the financial resources to send their children abroad for tertiary education.

Christopher Ziguras, a professor of global studies at RMIT University, and Ly Tran, a fellow at Deakin University in Australia described the coronavirus outbreak as “The biggest disruption in international student flows in history.”

Impact of the covid-19 on international student mobility worldwide

Many readers this article are too young to recall what happened in 1978 when the Iranian Revolution occurred. Prior to that time the largest cohort of international students studying in the United States were from Iran. Georgetown University had one of the largest number of Iranian students. Overnight they were gone. As a young admission officer I never forgot that lesson and all these years later I am an advocate of “cohort marketing” and an opponent of overreliance on a single student market.

 More Chinese students have enrolled worldwide over the past two decades than any other group of students in history. While the coronavirus may slow down Chinese student mobility there were many signs before the virus hit that slower Chinese student mobility growth was occurring. Economic and geopolitical signs were everywhere. I am surprised to read of the surprise and panic of some international colleagues over the likely negative impact of the coronavirus on future Chinese enrollments. The headwinds of change in China were evident for a long time. Strategic international plans written for this year and next, should be scrapped in full or in part. Most are no longer valid.

Reliance on a single student market for meeting enrollment and financial goals is never sustainable.


No one can predict with certainty what the long-term effects of the coronavirus virus will be on China’s economy, the world’s economy, and Chinese student mobility. What we do know is that geopolitical, economic and societal disruptions are occurring throughout the world and international higher education is not immune to these worldwide disruptions. 

In his book, On China, former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, explained the differences between American and Chinese foreign policy. American policy, he wrote, is similar to a game of chess and controlling the center of the board. Chinese foreign policy is closer to wei qi, or strategic flexibility. 

Which policy would best serve the international community of colleges and universities, international deans and recruiters, researchers and Chinese and international students in the time of the covid-19?  




U.S. Higher Education Challenges

January 21st, 2020 by

                        Three Indisputable U.S. Higher Education Challenges

There is no shortage of opinions and articles detailing the challenges facing higher education in the U. S. While the academy argues that the role of a university and college education is to prepare students to be critical thinkers, become responsible citizens, and contribute to society, chief financial officers argue that the current business model is outdated, unsustainable, and needs to change. 

In the book, The Innovative University, Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, wrote:

“The model is broken and yet so much that we associate with a college education, that a degree requires four years of study and 120 earned credits, that undergraduate life is also about fraternities and athletic teams and dorm life, and that a faculty member with a terminal degree, usually a PhD, is inherently the best educator, is becoming unsustainable.”

There are several challenges facing higher education. This article will focus on three.

Public Perception of Higher Education

In a report published by the Lawlor Group in 2012, 80% of the adults polled indicated the education offered at many colleges and universities in the U.S. was not worth the cost. In a 2019 Pearson survey, the majority of respondents agreed with the earlier survey. In this same survey students around the world and in the U.S. expressed the belief that there are many ways of obtaining the education and the skills needed to secure a job after graduation. College students, according to the Pearson Survey, believe they can succeed in life without a college degree.

Parents are re-evaluating the return on the college investment and demanding proof of tangible, positive outcomes, i.e. jobs for their children after graduation. No longer can many families finance a college education by refinancing home mortgages nor are many willing to tap into retirement funds.  College students don’t want to graduate with unmanageable loan bills that will be part of their economic life for years, or decades, after graduation. And 81% of college admissions counselors maintain that they are losing potential applicants due to concerns about accumulating unmanageable student loan debt. 

Alternative Educational Delivery Paradigms

In an attempt to meet the demands of the marketplace, many schools are forging alliances with alternative educational delivery paradigms, including for-profit organizations, online learning platforms, academic boot camps, and company-sponsored certificate programs. IBM, for example, has created one of the most robust digital badge portfolios and is adding more and different apprenticeship opportunities in addition to offering its own boot camp. Certificates in cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data science are available through IBM. And JP Morgan Chase has initiated similar educational programs in Detroit.

Consider the opinion voiced by Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive:

 “I don’t think a four-year degree is necessary to be proficient in coding. I think that is an old, traditional view.”

However, what alternative option is best and how can it be effectively delivered and monetized, remains elusive for many presidents, deans, and enrollment managers. 

Changing demographics and fewer international students

According to Inside Higher Ed’s “2019 Survey of College and Admissions Officers,” a majority (52%) of admission directors reported they did not meet their enrollment targets for the fall semester and are concerned about meeting enrollment goals for next year.

 When President Regan was inaugurated, 83% of Americans were white. That demographic has changed.  According to a PEW research report the Hispanic population reached nearly 60 million in 2018. And from 2012 to 2019 the number of white high school college students increased 5% while the number of Hispanic students increased 27%. According to the WICHE report, Knocking at the College Door, by 2020 minority students will account for 45% of America’s high school graduates. (In 2009 that statistic was 38%.)

 The United States’ proportion of international students has been declining for some time, contributing to fewer international students enrolling on U.S. colleges and universities. For several years it was this cohort of students, paying full tuition, that made it possible for many colleges and universities in the U.S. to meet their enrollment and financial goals. But, as was written earlier, this part of the prior business model is no longer working as it once did. 

 For decades, Chinese students have been the largest number of international students enrolled on U.S. colleges and universities. However, that is changing. In an article published by The World View, 87% of Chinese parents are re-evaluating plans about sending their children to study on American campuses and are now considering enrollment in other countries such as the U.K., Canada, and Australia.

 Tony Pals, spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, stated the following: “Economic, demographic, marketplace, and technological trends are converging to cause an unprecedented time of change for higher education. The new reality is that colleges are expecting to do more with less for years to come.”

There are certainly more challenges facing higher education in the U.S. than the three listed in this article. But these three are fundamental to understanding other challenges. 

“The Future? The Things that got us here will not get us there.”

                                                                                                      Peter Drucker