International Recruitment Post Covid-19

Alfredo AveroBy Alfredo Varela Associate Vice President Global Affairs The College of St. Rose Albany New York June 15, 2020.

Inside Higher Education just published another a series of articles outlining the expected severe downturn in international student enrollment. Citing mostly large state institutions, this latest article predicts declines of 10% to 30% in new and returning students. During a recent CNN interview, Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing at NYU Sterns School of Business 20 to 40% of schools, will start a “death march.” Here, rather than focus on the dire outcomes of such predictions, we must shift attention to the work required if institutions are to eventually turn the tide on this crisis.

Yes, this is an existential crisis. Especially for smaller private institutions, this is a moment of great reflection on their mission and history. Can institutions remain true to their core values and continue? Such questions are for those at a different level of decision-making. For those of us “in the trenches,” we must work, roll-up our collective sleeves, re-focus, regroup, and move forward.

Here are some very frank and concrete suggestions directed mainly at smaller private institutions. What comes next for us as individuals and collectively will rely on the work we do now.

Looking Forward

 While domestic recruitment has been affected by the current crisis, there are additional factors that have resulted in a long-term downward trend. International recruitment has been for many institutions a market to make up for losses due to demographic shifts in the US. As a result, the disruption felt by COVID19 in regards to new and returning international students has become a significant concern. In order to approach recovering, there are numerous barriers each institution must address. For example, the general anxiety of parents and students, financial issues created as the result of the crisis, travel restrictions, and the fact that most consular offices remain closed or are offering limited access. These are only the most visible challenges facing international students and are largely out of our reach to change.

With these issues likely to continue for the next few months, any institution hoping to see some recovery in their overall enrollment and retain diversity among their student population must make a long- term commitment. It will take 2-5 years before a full recovery takes place.

Here are four areas of consideration for maintaining and eventually increasing international student enrollment.

 1. Focus on direct contact and specific markets.

“Fortune always favors the brave” – PT Barnum

 Keeping health and safety primary, institutions that will recover most quickly are those that return to the markets in-person the soonest. Rightly so, the world has become concerned about issues of health and safety. However, now more than ever, students (and more importantly, their parents) must be assured that institutions are committed to providing the support needed to do everything possible to keep their children safe. Often large networks of familial ties support international graduate students, so this applies to them as well.

There will be no demonstration of this commitment more potent than being “there” in-person.

While international travel may continue to be difficult, there will be opportunities that are more safe and available. Supporting a local representative in-market could be an alternative, if they are chosen and managed carefully. Temporarily relocating a current employee overseas could also be an option. In either case, this could avoid issues related to travel between targeted destinations and the US. Where regional travel is possible, a well-placed employee could cover several markets and build true brand recognition.

Virtual fairs and meetings will be saturated in the coming months. Distinguishing an institution apart from the many others will be difficult, if not impossible. An immense concern is the “Brand Effect.” At live events, one ‘brand name top-50 school’ will attract a large number of students, but only to that one table or a few others in the room. Having attended such events, it is not impossible to turn such potential disasters into a positive, either through proximity to that school or some alternative attraction. A public announcement about a give-away or special scholarship could attract some “overflow” from such as school. Such actions will be much more difficult in a virtual arena where all students see is a series of logos or banners on a website.

Virtual events can still be productive, but they will have to be very well thought-out and executed. Separation from the herd is essential. Every piece of social media and each online event must literally burn the memory of your institution into the psyche of those who experience it.

Remember, every other institution will be attempting to do the same.

Domestic international students (international students currently in the US attending high school or a community college) represent a market already the focus of many institutions. For the coming fall, many universities are relying exclusively on these students to save them from a total disaster in international enrollment. However, moving forward, institutions must recognize that the same challenges and concerns that will limit international students at the college level might doubly affect high school students. Online classes, concerns about housing, or lack of homestays, travel restrictions, and of course, health concerns are likely to have a greater impact on this pipeline, and likely for a longer period. One only needs to ask themselves, “If I have concerns about sending my young adult away to college this fall, then how much more would I be concerned sending a child 1000’s of miles away from home?” Institutions should anticipate that this market will narrow for the coming recruitment cycle if not longer.

In the end, choosing regions and the entry for each market is key. Those staff and partners most closely aligned with international students must be trusted for their experience and on-the-ground intelligence to identify opportunities. It will be a highly fluid situation; responsiveness and focused action are required.

2. Know where you can strategically pullback resources or where to invest.

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” – Steve Jobs

 This will likely be the most controversial of these suggestions. However, in the short-term recognizing resources will be limited; the best opportunity for future growth may be in maintaining budget lines dedicated to marketing, travel, student-centered events, and anything that will increase brand recognition. If it saves budget-lines and permits some or all of the regular recruitment activities to continue, institutions should look to strategic staffing options.

This will be less complicated if a comprehensive international office is already in place. Alternatively, this may be an opportunity to consolidate some offices and bring them under the direction of Enrollment Management. As a comprehensive office for all things Global, an institution can reassign some responsibilities, rely on Graduate Assistants for some administrative tasks, and focus efforts on the recruitment and retention of international students.  It is important that a senior international official remain responsible for the strategic implementation of the international recruitment strategy in addition to essential duties such issuing and maintaining SEVIS records.

Of course, this is recognizing that while there may be some reduced demand in the short term for services a Global office would traditionally provide and that the university will look to replace staffing as international student enrollment and study abroad participation is rebuilt. This will result in a temporary reduction of some services and a time lag in addressing requests. Again, the focus for the coming year should be on recruitment and retention.

3. Re-imagine “the international campus.”

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” – William Faulkner

 While the presence of international students enhances the atmosphere of a campus and provides opportunities for domestic students to interact with other languages and cultures, looking forward, we must be open to other models to ensure the sustainability of the institution. Innovative partnerships and new models of delivery must grow out of this crisis. As has been said recently, “we cannot simply rebuild, but we must build better.”

Looking at alternative modes to deliver programs and degrees is essential. Offering degree programs overseas with limited or no on-campus presence is something to be considered. A set of completely online programs would put an institution in competition with a large number of other providers. This mode of delivery can be challenging to manage across time zones and is often viewed as having a very low value in many overseas markets, even though the degree may be the same. Some combination of in-person and online instruction, potentially partnered with a local institution, is likely going to be more successful. The option of students being able to come to campus for a summer or semester will further increase interest, though not all students may take advantage of this option. The University of Arizona has already launched what they call the “Global Campus,” but this does not mean the market is not still open to others.

Institutions must think creatively and without fear, nor permit the past to dictate the future.

4. Commit to the long-term or decide to shift direction.

“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost

 As has been stated at the onset, this crisis is an existential threat to many institutions. As a result, it is not a time to be timid or reserved. Institutions either commit to a vision of what the university will be in 100 years or face the inevitable now. Some institutions may decide no or limited international exposure is best for them.  While many will feel is the wrong decision, even this choice will require some continued work to wind-down processes and obligations. If the commitment is to an institution with a clear set of international connections and perspectives, then, as best as possible, strategic investments must be made and acted upon now.

Unfortunately, now is not a time for half-measures. We must move forward, whatever that may look like. Standing in place will only result in being swept over by the current wave of events.

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square.jpgEdu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Bloomington, Indiana USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university / college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions a wide range of consulting services. If you are an organization that wants to know more how Edu-Alliance can best serve you, please contact us at 

Scholars or Spies: Foreign Plots Targeting America’s Research and Development?

Two House Science subcommittees held a hearing in April titled Scholars or Spies: Foreign Plots Targeting America’s Research and Development. The purpose of the hearing was to explore espionage at US research universities.

The four witnesses were:

  • Hon. Michael Wessel, commissioner, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission
  • Hon. Michelle Van Cleave, former national counterintelligence executive, Office of National Counterintelligence Executive
  • Mr. Daniel Golden, author, “Spy Schools”
  • Mr. Crane Hassold, director of threat intelligence, PhishLabs

It can be taken by some as the down side of attracting foreign students, particularly from China, to study in the US. In his opening statement, the Oversight Sub Committee Chairman Ralph Abraham (R) of Louisiana said, in part:

The Chinese government has been very clear about its long-range plans for achieving global domination in critical areas of science and technology. China, however, has been less forthright about its methods, which include theft of confidential information and technological secrets from U.S. companies, cyber-attacks and other forms of spying to undermine our national security and putting sleeper agents at our research universities to steal our scientific breakthroughs. *** But many in academia have been unwilling to accept reality and unwilling to take any defensive measures to protect their researchers’ work, their universities’ scientific assets and taxpayers’ investments.

The complete video and written testimony can be found at Subcommittee on Oversight and Subcommittee on Research and Technology Hearing: Scholars or Spies: Foreign Plots Targeting America’s Research and Development.

On May 30th the Trump administration sent strong indications they will restrict the ability of Chinese grad students to get jobs at American companies after they are out of school. Reports say graduate students may be issued visas good for just a year at a time, rather than the multi-year type that are common now. This no doubt will have an adverse effect in the recruitment by American universities of Chinese students.

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square1.jpgEdu Alliance is a higher education consultancy firm with offices in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The founders and its advisory members have assisted higher education institutions on a variety of projects, and many have held senior positions in higher education in the United States and internationally.

Our specific mission is to assist universities, colleges and educational institutions to develop capacity and enhance their effectiveness.

Thank you to Advisory Council member Ken Salomon for making Edu Alliance aware of the hearing.

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