Universities should implement a comprehensive internationalization plan including all stakeholders within the university. This is an important effort building institutional commitment and capabilities. For this article, we focus on two aspects of international enrollment implementation: (a) alignment of marketing resources and (b) leveraging different departments of the university to present a more complete picture of your institution.
The alignment of your marketing resources includes your current recruitment channels and the desired mix of student enrollment channels in the future. We will focus on the alignment of the geographic, as well as, the marketing channel mix for this analysis. For the purpose of this article and analysis, we are going to exclude other important enrollment criteria such as the ability to pay, English capabilities and academic level and preparedness.
In addition to your academic program descriptions and reputation, career services and alumni relations can play a critical role in presenting vital services of future value for prospective students.
Step 1: Audit your external brand perception, visibility and content
We suggest that you analyze your target recruitment by country to understand your current status within the market environment. Students and parents are anonymous “shoppers” on your website. Despite many other influencing factors such as peer groups, rankings, agents, etc, your web and social media presence — both controlled by you and other information available about you — is an important influencer for prospective students.
Step 2: Review your internal brand perception
Assuming you already have international students on campus, the internal brand perception refers to your existing student pool or alumni. Focus groups, surveys and other research using on and offline methods will be important sources of information to inform your strategy and execution of what is relevant for students in the selection process. Marketing, admissions, student services and academic programming will benefit from these insights. Once you have a critical mass of students, long-term studies, such as those provided by i-graduate will provide valuable trend data and benchmarking.
Step 3: Clarify and align your current with your desired recruiting mix and marketing channels
We feel strongly that your organization has to align your marketing investments with the desired and achievable enrollment plan and the chosen strategies. If you decide to travel or limit your travel and rely on commission-based recruiters, your marketing and marketing related technology need to support that strategy. I will give a few examples.
We developed a small questionnaire for admission officers to provide us with directional guidance for their marketing support programs. Feel free to download the “Strategy Questionnaire” and use it for your activities.
Here is our simplified schema on how we interpret this continuous improvement process – Research – Define Activity – Implement – Analyze- Optimize -and repeat. It’s a little bit like Groundhog Day; you will repeat the same processes over and over, but hopefully with improving outcomes, yields, and efficiency. For example, recruiting fairs could be a persistent element of your recruiting program, but you need to measure the impact. Attending the recruiting events can be the easy part. The more labor-intensive parts are the pre-trip preparation and certainly the post-trip follow up.
Intead Research and Implementation Process
The implementation phase illustrated above will look different for each admission office depending on your institution’s profile, goals, scale and resources.
For example, if you rely on agents as your main recruitment channel, you may focus on developing an agent marketing and support program including a digital agent portal. This information portal will contain all marketing documentation and other relevant information to make it easy for agents to explain, market and recruit for your programs. You may say, “But we already have a website that contains everything one needs to know.” The answer is that your website contains a great deal more than the recruitment agents need to know. You can “package” your information in an easier format, including local language material, and other tips to make your program easy to market.
You are creating a specialized marketing effort targeting your agent network to market your programs to prospective students and parents. Remember that successful agents have a large number of schools in their portfolio.
You need to focus on the entire experience for the prospective international student. Unfortunately, these students cannot come to your campus so you need to find ways to bring your campus experience, student community and richness of your academic programs to them.
The admissions department relies on many different groups to showcase the strength of an academic institution. At competitive, selective universities, the admissions department plays the critical role of selecting and recruiting a promising, qualified, diverse and financially acceptable mix of students.
For a prospective student and parent, the “outcome” of the education is equally, if not more, important than the journey.
In the United States, the focus on career readiness and preparedness for a successful professional life has increased during the past years with rising tuition questioning the return on the investment.
In international markets, the dynamic has equally changed as the international student body has changed. When I came to the United States, in the late 1980s, the international student population seemed to include a much larger percentage of exchange students, children of the world’s wealthy upper class, and exceptionally qualified students qualifying for scholarships.
Today, surveys show a large majority funding the education through family savings and loans. The focus on return on investment leading to attractive professional jobs or continuation into graduate programs is paramount.
Yet we see limited efforts by universities to enhance their international career service capabilities. The jury is still out whether the dramatically larger group of students from China, and significant groups from Vietnam, China and South Korea can derive a positive return from their investment.
I deeply believe in the value of international education both for the individual as well as for society. Nevertheless, the economic rational is a pressing need as is the quantifiable measure of success.
As a result, universities would be well served by paying attention to the immediate and long-term career success of their international students. Only this success will guarantee a continued motivation and willingness by parents and prospective students to take the financial risk.
Step 4: Implementation
Task a point person to carry out steps one and two and collect the information. It’s important work focused on technical and marketing information gathering and analysis. Step three, alignment of your recruitment channels and resources requires leadership involvement and decision by the universities’ and/or departments’ leadership.
Successful international enrollment marketing is a combination of art and science and requires building relationships with academic partners and prospective students. Yet it has to be supported by “science” in the sense of data combined with disciplined, optimized and focused recruitment execution processes.
intead provides digital and technology services to colleges and universities, which crease effectiveness and cost-efficiency for these institutions by attracting, recruiting, orienting and retaining international students. The company uses advanced, data-driven, culturally relevant and innovative digital media.