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Reflecting on #AIEA2023: Promises Being Made and TBU Data

AIEA 2023 Reflections

A great gathering in DC as nearly 800 attended this year’s AIEA conference. The conversations were varied and interesting, as always. Kudos to Darla Deardoff, David Fleshler, and their team for pulling off a valuable event.

We are looking ahead at our next chance to chat about internationalization with .Edu trustees and presidents in San Diego at the AGB conference in April. Honored to be presenting alongside Brad Farnsworth from Fox Hollow Advisory (former ACE VP) and Dr. Gretchen Bataille from GMB Consulting (former president of the U of North Texas among other amazing higher ed roles). We will be talking all about insights university leaders need to guide internationalization efforts. Reach out if you or others from your team will be there.

Reflecting on this past week with our AIEA colleagues, my thoughts turn to internationalization and the many factors that go into its student recruitment process – the admissions, the student support/success efforts, the development of global partnerships. So many factors to manage. We know this.

Underlying it all is the question of staffing structure and the challenge of retaining current staff and attracting new to keep the process moving (better yet, optimized). Switching gears, did we mention credential evaluation and oh, study abroad programs? Right, so many aspects.

With all of this yanking on us, distracting us as each area of our jobs calls us to focus, there really is only one approach to multi-faceted work like this: be thorough and work hard. There is no magic solution, despite what so many vendors seem to say.

Let’s get into it and review the promises being made in our field and some actions you and your team can take to improve your Gen Z enrollment strategy. What data are you looking at? And how much of it is True But Useless (TBU)? With thanks to our Chief of Strategy Patricia Tozzi for bringing this phrase to the fore. Her perpetual questioning keeps us focused on this: what can you truly act on?

Read on for insights prompted by the 2023 AIEA gathering:

Looking at Partners: Big Hat. Any Cattle?

So many vendors and partners trying to access your recruitment budget dollars. Some were on display at AIEA. And Intead is certainly one of them. Who can really move the needle for you? And specifically, how do they do it?

Beyond the systems, services, and platforms being offered, it is important to focus on 2 things when evaluating external partners (in almost any situation):

  • Quality: What kind of outcomes can you expect from your partner? Are they clear up front? Outcomes should be projected based on clear project goals. Do your partners push you to define clear goals for your investment? I’ve had lengthy conversations with some vendors where, despite my best efforts, I left the discussion with more confusion than clarity. Scratch beyond the surface. Helpful to check references/reputation beyond those the vendor provides.
  • Integrity: Does their process speak to student-first or revenue-first? They will all tell you they are student-first. But as you dig into their processes and ask the right questions, you will see the integrity of their processes and their team. Student-first is clearly part of everyone’s messaging. But we know, messaging is not the same as doing. When we build systems, our true priorities get baked into the process and then, the outcomes.

Looking at Yourself: Big Hat. Lots of Cattle?

Institutions need to look inward as well to evaluate the promises they are making to international students.

Jewell Winn, AIEA immediate past president, pointed to this in one plenary. Are institutions delivering on the promises made to prospective students? So many international (and domestic) students feel alone on campus. A natural part of entering a new, foreign community. Are institutions doing enough to engage and support students given that we absolutely know mental health challenges and anxieties are soaring?

Providing this support well requires additional staff and processes/systems. There are costs. And unsurprisingly, investing in student support (you might call it customer service), produces happier students (customers) who then help your institution grow.

See our recent blog post on the topic with useful recommendations here.

Right, So, About Working Hard

At this year’s conference, I presented alongside Karin Fischer from The Chronicle of Higher Ed and Dr. Ahmad Ezzeddine, SIO from Wayne State University. We engaged with those present in a valuable discussion about the pressures of finding “right fit” students vs. “any fit” students. We talked about the data that informs our decisions and the student anecdotes that help us understand the data with more nuance and context.

Our perennial struggle: Revenue often drives the planning and decisions harder than a focus on student success outcomes.

Importantly, Dr. Ezzeddine, who recently was awarded IIE’s SIO of the year award, has a seat at the cabinet level within his institution. So, his voice is a powerful one when the pressure between student success and revenue generation influences significant policy decisions at the institution. When an institution is deciding to prioritize one thing over another, having a strong, experienced voice with international perspective has clear benefits.

Karin’s stories about her recent travels over the past 3 years (to China, India, and most recently, Africa) pointed to the power of demonstrating future employer connections as influencing student decisions. And, as we all know, the power of simply being present and showing your enthusiasm for your institution and what it can provide – the power of travel when recruiting.

Recommendations for Approaching Gen Z

  • What has not, and likely will not, change: The underlying value to students for any kind of college: Life-changing critical thinking that leads to job connections and opportunities. Whether they know it or not, you are helping them acquire the ability to adapt to a rapidly changing world. They will be using these skills for the next 70ish years. So, they ask the common questions you all know: Do you have my major (or probable major)? How much will it cost? Will I make friends? Etc.
  • What is new to Gen Z:  The way they reach out. The expectation of a quick response. The expectation of a social justice presence. The concerns about safety. They are exploring new questions via social media channels often without you being directly involved: Do you care about the environment? Are you welcoming of diverse people? How many gender options do your intake forms have? When was the last mass shooting on campus and how did you handle it? Your domestic applicants are a generation of students who have grown up with mass shooter drills. Columbine happened in 1999 (more than 20 years ago).

    There is so much more to this conversation about Gen Z. Actionable recommendations here: 2 Ways to Get Gen Z,   Do You Speak Gen Z Part 1,   Do You Speak Gen Z Part 2

Data Sources

  • Considering the macro and micro data we use: Are you using the following global and institutional data produced by these groups and individuals to inform your strategic plans? IIE, IPEDS/NCES, SEVIS (and the visa wait times tracking (thank you Jason Hall), British Council, ERASMUS, UNESCO, OECD, your own Google Analytics and enrollment data (CRM, social channels, etc.), World Bank and IMF Economic Analyses (tracking middle class and industry growth by region), We Are Social (tracking social media usage by country). If you don't have time to do the research and analysis, that's what our team is here for. Reach out.

Eyebrow-Furrowing Perspectives about China

If you had 100 students coming from New Jersey and 10 from Pennsylvania, and a shift in the winds pushed New Jersey down to 80 students or even 70, would you turn your back on New Jersey? Consider population size (NJ = 9.3M and PA = 13M). Consider industry growth trends and employment opportunities in each state. Now consider your institution’s attitude/approach to recruiting students from China in the current climate. Are people telling you to back away from this source? Just some food for thought given China's outsized potential despite current downward trends.

We hope you can use some of our perspectives here to continue to educate your campus leaders about internationalization, its value and its complexity.  We provide our clients with analyses (take a look at our Digital Audit) and on-campus stakeholder workshops to spread the word and build internal alignment around internationalization. 

We enjoy meeting you all at these events and are excited to present with our colleagues at AGB in April and NAFSA this May. Will you be there? Let us know.

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