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LATAM Recruiting Series: Insights on Colombia

LATAM Colombia

Welcome to another installment in our LATAM recruiting series. In part one we shared insights and predictions about Brazilian student mobility. This week, our focus is on Colombia. As you diversify your student sources, Colombia makes for a valuable addition if you are not already active there. COVID creates obstacles for all of our source countries in 2021, but that doesn’t stop us from maintaining important international connections and pursuing the opportunities that endure. 

Let’s get down to business and explore some numbers. According to the SEVIS March 2021 report, Colombia has nearly 10,000 active students in the US, with IIE reporting Colombia 23rd in ranking for sending students to US universities. This same report shows the interest in graduate degrees being the preferred choice with a 34% enrollment rate compared to 25% for a bachelor’s degree and 11% for an associate’s degree.

No surprise, pandemic-fueled personal instability with contributing social and economic turbulence has Colombian students and parents concerned. Taking that into consideration, as well as Colombia having significant income inequality second only to Brazil in Latin America, some Colombian students face seemingly insurmountable challenges when considering tertiary study opportunities.

Overcoming obstacles in this field has so much to do with developing and nurturing the international relationships that turn into pipelines. Consider the conversations your institution already has with prospective students and the channels being used. Faculty connections, alumni connections, agent connections all have value for the intelligence they bring to your planning and the potential for growth. These all play into the digital marketing approach you will deploy to capture greater student awareness and action.

Online Connections Matter

In the latest bulletin (2018) from the Colombian Ministry of Telecommunications, 60% of the Colombian population has Internet access, with more than half of users connecting with mobile phones. Important as you consider your website and landing pages.

Although there is a digital divide leaving countryside dwellers less connected, the larger cities are taking advantage of their 4G services and free wifi hotspots. Facebook and WhatsApp are the most commonly used with We Are Social reporting an increase in social media users in Colombia by 34 million, an 11% increase from April 2019 to January 2020.

Read on for our assessment of opportunities to recruit Colombian students...

While we are on the subject of connecting virtually, let’s touch on the pandemic status within Colombia. As of this posting, Colombia’s COVID cases remain high, with a current rate of infection at over 4.2 million or approximately 12% of the population. Unfortunately, current vaccine distribution is slow going here. This is the time for setting the groundwork for future growth.

A recent example of creative outreach: UK’s University of Exeter, encouraged by NYU’s COIL framework, recently had significant success developing virtual exchanges through an online field trip targeting Colombian medical and nursing students. While this idea isn’t new, it is continuing to flourish during times when travel isn’t a guaranteed option for students. 

The feedback from the event was remarkable. Students were afforded the opportunity to ask questions, attend presentations from medical experts, and take part in Latin dance lessons in place of Carnival. IT support and language interpreters also played an integral role in the success of the event. This example leads us to examine our approaches to reaching cohorts in a method that is unique, develops international relationships, and engages targeted cohorts of students online.

More Data Interpreted to Inform Your Planning

Unlike Brazil’s STEM-based degree program preference, Colombian students show greater interest in Business & Management, Humanities and Health-focused degree options. As evidenced through Exeter’s COIL program, these programs hit the mark when addressing both the students' desires to gain valuable education opportunities and gain insight into real-world application post graduation. 

Check out our 2019 Emerging Markets Report for useful recruiting insights into Colombia and other valuable LATAM (and African) student sources. You will find that Colombian women expressed a higher interest in both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Also shown in our report is a high level of concern over affordability. As you may be familiar, The World Bank has helped address economic challenges by financing long-term student loan options through their program, TuEliges. Consider how these programs might play into your prospective student communications about work-study programs, scholarships, and other funding sources. 

Consider creative and significant levels of customer service. Your job is to present more than simply the option of studying at your amazing institution. Consider presenting students with ideas to help them turn their dreams into realities. Plant seeds of optimism and opportunity. When faced with multiple options to study, which institution is going to be the one that these students are more likely to attend? The one that fed them information leading toward their success as opposed to the hum drum standard stuff.

Jobs, Language Skills, and Demographics

ICEF reports Colombian students seek international opportunities that provide economic value during and after their program completion. Opportunities for work experience can serve as a deciding factor in their search as Colombian students find employers look favorably upon foreign work experience (ICEF).

In 2019, Colombian students contributed $319 million to the US economy, and despite the drop in enrollment during the pandemic, the US remains a high-interest selection for these students with the desire for English language learning stronger here than in other countries. There is pent up demand for language programs as indicated in a recent story in Study Travel Magazine identifying a 25% drop in Colombian students heading to Australia for English language learning due to the pandemic.

UNESCO reported Colombia to be second only to Brazil for outbound student mobility in Latin America during the decade prior to the pandemic. With current demographic analyses showing 39% of the population has an average age of under 24 (Trade.gov), there are real opportunities here with careful consideration of your academic programs that fit the specific market demand in Colombia.

A recent search of GlassDoor for jobs in Colombia showed the clear dominance of information technology, computer software and hardware. Another area of opportunity: recruiting and staffing service providers. How can your academic programs draw a line from your degrees to these job opportunities? Can your marketing connect those dots for prospective students?

What to Do Next

Start here: consider your Colombian alumni who validate the claims you will make in your recruitment marketing. Then review your faculty travel and research activity in the region. Find the angle that legitimately establishes your institution’s credibility as a great option. Then get that message out there. 

Looking for more insight into your Latin American recruiting options?  Let’s have a discussion.

Next up in our LATAM Recruiting Series: Ecuador


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