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Recruiting Intelligence

A View from My Seat: SIO Edition

A View From My Seat: SIO Edition

Today, we start a new occasional series with our Recruiting Intelligence Blog calling on the expertise of our colleagues in the field and sharing their views with you. Many of you know our first “View from My Seat” writer and worked with him in his former role as Vice President for Global Engagement at the American Council on Education. Brad Farnsworth now runs Fox Hollow Advisory helping institutions develop and execute international strategy.

We are thrilled to share his counsel to SIOs as universities around the world continue to grapple with how the pandemic has changed their approach to global partnerships, student services, student enrollment, and overall academic business models.

Be sure to sign up for our AIRC-hosted webinar with Technion Israel Institute of Technology presenting “Shifting Student Perspectives: Digital Marketing Now” — Free to AIRC members and $45 for non-members. Register HERE. (If your institution is not an AIRC memberhit us up for a code and we'll see about getting you past the velvet ropes.)

Read on for Brad’s counterintuitive recommendations for all of our SIO colleagues.

The pandemic has redefined every leadership position on our campuses. If you look at any pre-Covid job description, chances are it will read like a historic document from a previous era — which in a sense it is. From student services to curriculum planning to the research enterprise, the future of higher education now seems more uncertain and more complex when compared with late 2019.

One of the themes that runs through many accounts is that trends that existed before Covid have accelerated in dramatic and unpredictable ways. Online education immediately comes to mind, but there are also deeper and more troubling issues, such as the fundamental viability of the business model for higher education.

Which brings us to the senior international officer. Their primary task is to develop an international strategy for their institution and then deliver on its goals and objectives. Based on what I am seeing and hearing, many institutions will be taking a fresh, hard look at these plans. This effort is not unique to international work: university leaders will be looking at every aspect of their institution’s operations, looking for ways to cut costs, increase revenue, manage risk, and strengthen their value proposition (faculty beware!).

SIO Counterintuitive Recommendations:

  1.  Lead on the review.
    Take the lead on the review process and do not wait for your president or provost to take the initiative or ask you for it. The SIO-CEO and SIO-CFO relationships are especially key and deserve attention. Standing up when everyone else is looking for cover may sound counterintuitive, but the brutal economics of running a university in 2021 will make the review inevitable.
    It is much better to show leadership here, offering to conduct a thorough review of existing international programs and activities and asking how they align with mission and goals. If your institution does not have a written international strategy, this is the perfect time to develop one. The process is not all that different from any other strategic planning process, and there are tons of free (and nearly free) materials to help you get started. NAFSA, AIEA, ACE, and EAIE all come to mind as resources.
  2. Look inward first.
    Listen to your colleagues within the institution before you consider expanding your global footprint. If your president agrees to the international audit, this will offer the perfect opportunity. The goal here is to find connections between institutional goals and international opportunities—ideally, to create a sense within your community that they are one and the same. If this process is going well, you should be doing a lot more listening than talking. And you should be learning more than teaching. Recognize these institutional relationship-building efforts take time. Start early and be persistent—and patient.
  3. Build new connections.
    I’ll use the advancement office as an example here. When I worked on a campus, I was frequently struck by the two types of people in fundraising. One type was highly transactional, relying on a set of specialized knowledge and skills within their field. Once a clear fundraising goal had been set by top management, they were very effective in reaching that goal.

    Another type had a deep interest in, and knowledge of, their institution giving them the ability to match the interests of donors with potential and emerging gift opportunities. Focus on becoming the second type of campus leader, which means mastering all the workings of your institution, both domestic and international. This type of leader delivers on established goals while creating and advancing new strategic opportunities for the institution. They are much more visionary.

Considering Overarching Goals and Looking Forward

Many written international strategies include the goal of increasing international student enrollments. Covid has been especially devastating here due to travel restrictions and the widespread perception that the US has not managed the pandemic well (though the vaccine roll-out in the US has changed these perceptions a bit). Combine these recruitment challenges with the meltdown in US relations with China—its #1 source of international students—and you have the perfect storm for declining enrollments.

With these factors in play, expect global competition for students to be more aggressive than ever, and expect to see regional competitors emerge, who will try to make the case that this is a good time to be studying closer to home and not in the US.

Consider your personal skill set and specialized knowledge, while remembering that our field is full of smart, talented people. Much of the technical expertise that produces results for international  enrollment can be purchased at a reasonable price from talented vendors. (You will of course vet these vendors wisely, using your international plan and institutional review as your guide.)

Let’s say your institution has successfully reimagined its value proposition and is ready to share it with its external stakeholders, both domestic and international. Rather than becoming an expert on digital marketing/social media, evaluate the selection of private and public partners who know this stuff.

What you do need is a laser focus on what sets your institution apart from your competitors. From following the latest changes in US visa regulations to understanding regulatory changes in India, the same principle holds—you need not be an expert in areas where you can purchase those skills. Recognize that the no-budget or low-budget solution will not work well in the short term and will fail in the long term.

Paradoxically, what will set you apart as a campus leader will not be your international credentials. Instead, it will be your ability to define the challenges facing your institution and be part of the solution. Your ability to secure a realistic budget will depend on your ability to tie international goals to the reimagined value proposition for your institution.

We’d love to hear about your institution’s experience with Covid and whether your institution’s goals and activities have changed since early 2020.

Contact Brad: brad.farnsworth@foxhollowadvisory.com


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