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Recruiting Intelligence

AIRC 2023 Reflections: Slides Now Available



As I headed to Phoenix for the AIRC 2023 conference, I wondered if the window had already closed for education institutions just now considering starting up with commission-based agents as an international student recruitment channel. Happy to tell you, that window has not closed at all.  

Yet, there is a lot to consider for those institutions just starting, and those having been at it for years. 

With the largest AIRC conference to-date (480 attendees), more than 200 first timers attended. Clearly there is demand to learn more about how effective university-agent partnerships work. And having been part of the AIRC community for 14 of their 15-year history, I can tell you that AIRC is one of the best places to learn about international student enrollment growth. 

From sample contracts to efficient agent engagement policies and practices, AIRC’s documentation and counsel are outstanding. This year, 7 members of the Intead team traveled to Phoenix to attend, in part because the learning opportunities and global connections at this conference are among the best in the industry. The other part was the opportunity to share our own expertise with the attendees at our full-day Global Marketing Workshop. That was a hoot. The Intead team just loves this stuff. 

We’ll be at AIEA in DC in about 6 weeks and participating in 3 great presentations: 

  • AI for enrollment management  
  • Entrepreneurial leadership in bureaucratic environments 
  • A discussion around International Student Points of Entry and a new international student-focused publication to be released later in 2024 

And of course, we will be presenting at NAFSA in New Orleans in late May. If you’d like to schedule time to chat over coffee instead of over Zoom, please be in touch (info@intead.com). 

At AIRC 2023, we gave our full-day Global Marketing Workshop with half a day devoted to an interactive lecture on the fundamentals of the strategy that drives a university’s tactical execution. After lunch, we dove into 1:1 consulting with participants to address the group’s self-identified greatest needs.  

It was fascinating to see how our workshop attendees debated and decided amongst themselves what the second half topics should be. Here’s where we ended up: 

  • I need a marketing budget, what do I do to get it approved? 
  • I have a marketing budget. Now what? 
  • Identifying and filling resource gaps 
  • Processes for nurturing and converting leads 
  • Creating authentic and powerful recruitment content 

Do these topics resonate for you? Be in touch and we can share what we know and how we have helped institutions like yours succeed.  

During the AIRC conference, Intead’s Sr. Digital Marketing Manager Iliana Joaquin joined Dr. David DiMaria, SIO at UMBC, for a practical discussion about how AI and ChatGPT are being used today in enrollment management and what we can realistically expect in the next year as AI-driven tools evolve. Short answer – it ain’t there yet, but it very likely will be in the next couple of years. So much more to talk about on this topic. There are definitely some gains that can be made in some areas, but the hype from the vendors is creating so much noise. Very frustrating.

Later at the conference, I ran a session with Vanessa Andrade about staffing challenges that so many institutions are facing today. The discussion about what skills and tasks to hire for and what to outsource was dynamic with so many additions from the folks in the room. This is what we absolutely love about the AIRC conference.

We are making these insightful presentations available to blog subscribers for free. Download them here.

Below we summarize 3 key take-aways from the conference. Please read on… 

So, about the learning opportunities and state of the field insights we gathered from AIRC 2023, we’ll put them into 3 categories: 

1. The Importance of Curiosity 

We attended an excellent session run by Vanessa Andrade, CSU-Northridge, Kirsten Fedderson, StudyPortals, and Pieter Vermeulen, University of North Texas. Their presentation about the data we all find, scour, and analyze to figure out where the opportunities lie was very well done. Key to their success, and a quality we embrace here at Intead: curiosity.  

We saw curiosity so well demonstrated in these three session presenters. When data arrives, we do not simply take it at face value. It prompts us to wonder. It prompts us to ask more questions. The data outliers are interesting. Are they relevant? The core at the middle, what is it that makes them cluster like that? What questions does this data answer with confidence? What is missing or still confusing? What is the story it wants to tell us? Are there biases in the collection tools? 

We apply this kind of curiosity to the full (and we mean FULL) student journey, all the influencing factors. Curiosity is key to successfully navigating international student recruiting.

Collecting data is just the beginning. Interpreting the data is what it is all about. 

2. University-Agent Partnership Tips

The AIRC conference consistently fosters discussion about best practices with this recruitment channel. To those of us who have been in it for so many years, the tips for universities seem old hat. With 200 first-time attendees at this year’s conference, there are clearly new members of our community seeking information. The very basics that universities need to understand: 

  • Train each other: 
    • Agents train university counterparts about in-country culture and influences 
    • Universities train agents about your institution’s values and priorities, key programs, admissions processes 
  • Communicate with your agent partners frequently (weekly is not too much) about the status of their student applicants and changes at your institution 
  • Pay agent commissions on time and consistently to help your agent partners with their own business cash flow 
  • Evaluate application rates, visa approval rates, and enrollment yield rates by country, city, and academic program and discuss with your agents the mutual opportunities to improve results 

There are many more, but these topics are among the most discussed each year at AIRC. For more insights, check out our Agent-University Partnership research discussed in our Webinar Recording.

3. The Value of the AIRC Board of Directors

I’ve been involved in many non-profit organizations. Over the years, I have been staff to them, I have been board member and board chair for them, and I have been a paid consultant to them.  

What we know: non-profit management is a world unto itself with all the challenges that emerge for any operation with the added challenge of a fully volunteer board of directors.  

I am so thankful for the volunteers who have stepped up and made AIRC strong and vibrant. While I’ve volunteered throughout my 14-year involvement with AIRC, my level of effort is not nearly the level of effort that the AIRC board puts in. From outside the room where it happens, it is easy to second guess decisions about the organization’s direction. However, AIRC has grown consistently more valuable to our international education community over the years, and that is because of the thoughtful, well-meaning leaders who make it all possible for the rest of us.  

I hope our readers can send a note of thanks to AIRC for the work this organization does and the value its volunteers create for the benefit of the rest of us. 

In the meantime, it’s already mid-January and admissions season is well upon us all. We know you’re busy – how can we help? Be in touch.

Oh, and for your convenience, here's that link we shared above to the AIRC slides: download them here.

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