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US: fear for the future of HE as “too little time” spent on int’l recruitment

One in four private, nonprofit US college board members believes their institution is spending “too little time” recruiting international students, while around 20% of public institution trustees say the same, according to a report from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

Only 35% of respondents agreed US college graduates have the skills to be competitive in the global economy. Photo: Flickr/ COD Newsroom

Around 85% said that they had concerns for the HE sector in 2019 – up from 73% in 2018

Featuring a survey of 919 AGB members, the report found that over two-thirds of trustees believe recent changes to US immigration laws have had “some impact on the number of international students enrolled at their institution or system”.

It showed that 22% reported a “major impact”, while around 50% of trustees reported a “minor impact” from the policy shifts on international student enrolment.

“I expect that we will see renewed efforts to recruit international students, although it will be more difficult”

Additionally, the report also revealed that trustees are increasingly showing concern about the future of the US higher education sector.

Around 85% of those surveyed said that they had concerns in 2019 – up from 73% in 2018 – with financial sustainability and price for students and their families as the most pressing areas.

Meanwhile, about a quarter of private nonprofit board members said “too little time” is spend recruiting international students, while 20% of public institution trustees said the same.

But vice president/ vice provost of International Affairs at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Cheryl Matherly, said that suggesting too little time is being spent recruiting international students “oversimplifies the issue”.

She reminded that between 2001–2018, the number of internationally mobile students increased from 2.1 million to 5 million globally, while the US’s share declined from 28% to 21%.

Matherly told The PIE  that factors contributing to the stagnation of international student enrolments in US institutions include visa application delays, the uncertainty of the political climate, rising costs of US college and university tuition, more competition with other countries, and concern for physical safety in the country.

In a competitive market, the US will not “reverse this trend by simply spending more time on recruiting without considering larger forces reshaping the global higher education landscape”, she explained.

“It is well known that the enrolment of international students at US universities bailed out many institutions, especially public institutions, after the 2008 recession,” Matherly continued.

“However, given the issues affecting international students’ decisions regarding study in the US, it is unlikely that we could depend upon this in the next downturn,” she said, adding that she was surprised the ABG report did not mention the “looming demographic cliff” that is coming in 2025.

“The number of students attending college is projected to crater between 2025 and 2029 by 15%, and this is going to put much more pressure on institutions to find creative ways to fill empty seats,” Matherly noted.

“I expect that we will see renewed efforts to recruit international students, although it will be more difficult than in the past.”

She said that US institutions that find successful ways to stabilise enrolments, including international student enrolments, will “be best prepared for this period ahead”.

Associate vice provost for international education at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, David Di Maria, argued that too little time is spent engaging in “strategic international recruitment”, rather than recruiting international students.

He cited a 2018 NAFSA survey that revealed that 32% of respondents indicated that their institution spent less than US$10,000 annually on international recruitment travel.

“Most institutions lack a campus-wide international enrolment management plan – 0nly 18% according to the NAFSA survey,” Di Maria told The PIE.

“Having no plan and no resources dedicated to international recruitment makes an institution highly vulnerable to external factors, such as the rise and fall of government scholarship programs.”

Di Maria added that STEM institutions, in particular, are reliant on international students for funding.

Both international and domestic students are concerned about finding a job post-graduation, and there is pressure for institutions to demonstrate the ROI of their degrees, Matherly at LU indicated – a sentiment echoed by Di Maria.

“In the US, we have a situation where the cost of education continues to rise while the return – such as practical training programs and post-graduation work opportunities – is perceived to be less certain,” he noted.

“Having no resources dedicated to international recruitment makes an institution highly vulnerable”

The AGB report also found that only 35% of respondents agree that US college graduates have the skills they need to be competitive in the global economy.

With only around 10% of US undergraduates participating in an education abroad experience before they graduate, it is more pressing to ensure that they interact with international students in the country, Di Maria said.

“We can’t rely on outbound mobility alone to prepare our graduates to succeed in the global economy.

“International students bring unique perspectives to our classrooms, laboratories and communities. In effect… they help make global learning more accessible to all,” he added.

Both Matherly and Di Maria contend that US institutions should consider pushing ahead transnational education strategies, going forward.

Di Maria said he implored US institutions to “explore models for offering academic programs abroad via transnational education”, as by doing so, he believes colleges would help to deal with two barriers to international student enrolment: cost and visa denials.

“I am expecting that we will see more US institutions offering expanded online programs, degrees offered outside the US, and other hybrid options, in an effort to deliver a high quality US degree at a lower price point,” Matherly told The PIE.

“US higher education is very complex, and leadership is grappling with a number of issues that are reshaping the industry in very significant ways,” she said, adding, “‘business as usual’ is not an option.”

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3 Responses to US: fear for the future of HE as “too little time” spent on int’l recruitment

  1. Student recruitment is a sales activity. I wonder how many recruiters have completed a sales training program such as that offered by Dale Carnegie. International student recruitment strategies abound, but it is the implementation of those strategies by qualified persons that makes the real difference.

    • Agreed. Perhaps not the Dale Carnegie program but at the very least having someone who is experienced and have a track record of success recruiting Internationally. Every institution is different and game plan and strategy will need to be set before getting on a plane to recruit. Attending paid arranged educational tours with little game plan is not the best ROI.

  2. Many institutions have made attempts to work with agents, or recruit on their own. When one tracks the ROI the return is usually low. This is because to have an effective plan the commitment is 3 years and one needs to have a clear strategy on expected outcome. Channel management, relationship management, in-country promotion are all key pieces which an institution needs to take in account. Like needing a root canal and trying to pull your teeth out yourself. You can do so but likely you want to see an oral surgeon instead. Happy to assist with institutions who are serious about recruiting Internationally and especially working in China.

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