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WES backs high school ‘backyard recruitment’ for US HEIs

In a paper for WENR, World Education Services pointed to so-called ‘backyard recruiting’ as the next growth area for US HEIs concerned with falling numbers of global students enrolling in the country.

WES expect that by targeting international students already in the US, recruitment targets are achievable. Photo: Unsplash

50%+ of HEIs were looking to increase their agent usage

The idea proposed by WES’s Cindy Le is, in summary, that US institutions should pivot their focus to recruiting international students who are already living and studying at secondary level in the country.

“Many international students at high schools in the US definitely came from agents”

Though it is not a ground-breaking idea on the face of it, the proposition of such a move is made in reaction to falling inbound figures from India and China, and could signal a true changing of the guard in recruitment.

Added to a growing understanding that community colleges offer a realistic and valuable route into four-year degree programs for international students, a reassessment of the main recruitment strategies could be coming.

A key to this initiative from WES is the so-called “Talent Blindspot” suffered by community college enrolees, as explained in June of this year. Despite an increase in international students attending these institutions, many are not transferring to four-year schools even though their GPA scores would allow them to.

As Le pointed out, this “[suggests] there is room for recruitment to increase” to from this source market.

With turbulent political messaging reportedly affecting students willingness to journey to the US, the recruitment of younger or less experienced students who have already made this jump could be lucrative. Eli Cohen of John Jay College of Criminal Justice noted that the visa refusal rates for students already at high school or community college in the US was “0%”.

Along with visa refusal rates, Le pointed out that ‘backyard recruiting’ from community colleges and ESL schools could stymie problems with English proficiency, which Vera Vlasenko, international student advisor at Westfield State University noted as a continuing problem on campus.

“When an international student recruiter goes abroad, students of the target country don’t always have English proficiency. One of the options we can offer those students is enrolling with a language institute or community college to bring their English proficiency up to a required level,” she said.

The growing popularity of pathway programs in the US, INTO and Study Group are two firms recording notable growth in the US, is another potentially positive recruitment field for HEIs, which hopefully avoids language issues.

“Students already in the US reached a level almost equivalent to recruited Indian students”

In fact, students already in the US and with a likely interest to continue to US higher education has reached a level almost equivalent to recruited Indian students – according to the latest available IIE data.

With concerns around recruitment targets, plans, and spending highlighted by David di Maria and IEM in the inaugural ‘State of the Field‘ research, it should not come as any surprise to read that 19% of US institutions plan to travel less for recruitment in 2019, and 80% do not plan to increase budgets for next year’s cycle.

But this does not necessarily mean observers should expect a further dip in international enrolments, according to WES.

Along with partnerships and agreements with third party companies (such as the pathway providers mentioned above), and forging local links with community colleges and high schools, WES suggests an uptick in the number of US HEIs using education agents could assist in-country recruitment.

According to proprietary research, the consultants said more than 50% of HEIs were looking to increase their agent usage.

And as Cohen pointed out, many of the international secondary students have arrived in the US after using an agent – so keeping that relationship is key to recruiting the student.

“Many of the international students that study at high schools in the US definitely came from agents, and the agents don’t disappear from their lives. They’re not only going to help them find their high school, they’re going to help them choose a college… so it’s very important to maintain relationships with these agents,” he said.

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