Published on 2015/08/10

Effectively Engaging Prospective International Students in Resource-Constrained Environments

The EvoLLLution | Effectively Engaging Prospective International Students in Resource-Constrained Environments
Efficient and effective management, buttressed by the adoption of critical management tools, is essential to success in the competitive international marketplace for institutions that are short on resources.

Today’s higher education environment is filled with renewed interest in and calls for increased internationalization. At the same time, the competitive international education landscape suggests a significant investment of resources is required to effectively recruit and engage prospective international students. However, many institutions continue to work in resource-constrained environments, which requires a more nuanced approach towards developing a strategic international student recruitment plan.

This article offers a number of strategies to consider incorporating into an international student recruitment plan that effectively engages prospective international students and enhances institutional return on investment.

Utilizing Technology: Turning Leads Into Applications

One of the challenges experienced by all institutions is to increase yields throughout each stage of the admissions funnel (i.e., application yield on leads, admit yield on applications, etc.). Many institutions use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools to effectively engage prospects and turn them into applicants. However, for institutions operating in a resource constrained environment or just entering the international student recruitment arena, investing in a CRM system may represent a sizeable proportion of the institution’s recruitment budget.

For those institutions who do not have access to CRM software solutions, products like Highrise, Nimble, Nutshell and others offer affordable solutions and can easily be integrated with products like Mailchimp. While these products may not offer all the bells and whistles of more expensive CRM systems, they offer more than enough for institutions just getting started.

Lean Business Processes

The administration of institutions of higher education is similar to lean management practiced in other service sectors because teaching and administration consist of repeatable transactional processes, in whole or part. Guidance for lean implementation in higher education administration is presented in William Balzer’s book Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes. 

The increased competition for international students among institutions of higher education worldwide has placed a premium on effective and efficient business processes to support international student recruitment. Among these are streamlined, or lean, international admissions processes that not only include those directly related to the processing of applications, but also those functions that provide necessary visa support and the effective dissemination of pre-arrival information. After all, recruitment doesn’t end after a student is admitted.

Implementing a Digital Marketing Campaign

Meeting prospective students where they reside and taking advantage of the global phenomenon of social media is another cost effective way for institutions to engage potential international students. Social media platforms are an excellent way to share campus events with and connect prospective (and newly admitted) international students with current students. Facebook, Instagram, Renren, Baidu, YouTube , Youku and many others allow for a diverse range of digital communication to prospective students with relatively little financial investment. The important thing to recognize is that different platforms rule in different markets.

Creating a Virtuous Circle

While developing lean processes and better utilizing technology to engage prospective international students are fundamental to the development of a successful international recruitment plan, these strategies by themselves are insufficient to bring about long-term success. Ultimately, senior campus leaders need to move beyond the rhetoric of simply stating internationalization goals and support these with adequate resources. Creating a Virtuous Circle to fund international student recruitment and campus internationalization, as described by Adams, Leventhal and Connelly (2012), is a significant step towards achieving these goals and ensuring long-term funding for international initiatives.

During the last decade budgets have been cut across the board, and the modest economic recovery experienced in the United States has done little to restore pre-2008 budgets. In response to this, there is a new recognition, identified by Adams Leventhal and Connelly, that international students can help internationalize the campus experience, while providing a source of funding that is not dependent on state budgets, grants or philanthropy. While funding models may differ by institution, in the broadest sense a Virtuous Circle is a funding model that reinvests a portion of the revenue generated by international student tuition in an effort to provide continued, sustainable support to international student recruitment and other internationalization priorities.

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Balzer, W. K. (2010) Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes, Productivity Press: New York.

Adams, T., Leventhal, M. & Connelly, S. (2012). International Student Recruitment in the United States: Approaches and Attitudes in The SAGE Handbook of International Higher Education. SAGE: Los Angeles.

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Readers Comments

Rosa Brisk 2015/08/10 at 2:39 pm

We sometimes forget that none of our plans, no matter how solid, will get off the ground if we don’t back them with enough resources. It sounds a bit mercenary and we often don’t like to talk about money, but the saying holds true: you’ve got to spend it to make it.

    Paul Hofmann 2015/08/17 at 11:23 am

    Thank you for the comment, Rosa. Your comment is a clear reminder that advocacy for additional resources needs to be part of the plan.

Sandra Christensen 2015/08/10 at 3:27 pm

That’s where all this talk of lean processes comes in. There are ways to save time and money so we need fewer resources to achieve the same things. And in many cases, the twin goals of increased revenue and better student service come as a result of more streamlined systems.

    Paul Hofmann 2015/08/17 at 11:29 am

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, Sandra. The value of Lean processing should not be overlooked. While some may interpret Lean processing as code language for doing more with less, it is really about identifying processes that are more efficient. At Fresno State, Lean international admissions processing has contributed to our international enrollment growth more than any other strategy.

Victoria Bedkowski 2015/08/11 at 12:32 pm

We’re still lagging behind in the world of social media, and I think we really need to get ourselves to the point where we are leading the way. Higher ed stands to benefit from the internationalization that has already been taking place via social media, and even more so if we can move to the head of the pack.

    Paul Hofmann 2015/08/17 at 11:20 am

    Thank you for the comment Victoria. I agree wholeheartedly. One of the challenges with effectively utilizing social media (and technology in general) is that it is all changing so very quickly – which circles back to advocacy for resources at the highest levels.

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