This one is just begging for industry commentary. Kudos, REALLY BIG KUDOS, to Elizabeth Redden and Inside Higher Ed for her reporting on pathway programs. So many recruitment realities revealed, and struggles documented. Elizabeth’s research and prolific writing have advanced the industry conversation more than anything I’ve seen in a long time.
This post should be handy when your president or provost asks for your take on "what is happening with international" these days?
What just stole the industry conversation away from pathway programs is, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the Trump Travel Ban (aka the "Muslim Ban" that is *not* a Muslim Ban, cough, cough). With all the walls being built around this country by Washington to keep foreigners out, it just may be that pathway programs are more important than ever as a pipeline for recruiting international students. But as Elizabeth's reporting makes clear, institutions can't travel this path without clear leadership and a well defined strategy. Many are going this route in a way that will confound and harm them later.
Our just-completed webinar with Karin Fischer addressed the Travel Ban decision and some of its ramifications. The recording will be available next week for viewing for all Intead Plus members (see below).
The institutions willing to share their struggles and successes with Elizabeth for the Inside Higher Ed story gave readers real insight into so many of the challenges in international student recruiting. Much of it has to do with factors external to the university and largely out of their control. Other factors are very much in their control and have everything to do with internal politics and alignment (or lack thereof).
When tied to Elizabeth’s article about recently released NAFSA research on the lack of planning that most universities have done around international student recruiting, one’s mind begins to spin. Lack of strategy and planning coupled with long-term contracts is a really bad mix.
Read on for Intead's perspective on how pathway programs do and don't work. Buckle up...This will be worth the ride.
Long-time readers of this blog will recognize that we've addressed some of these topics here before. We're connecting some dots with this post in a way that should be helpful. These topics are all relevant to why pathway programs are seen as succeeding or failing in the current recruitment climate. In classic Intead style, we offer the following as a clear punch list of things to consider and things to do when building and executing a global recruiting strategy.
Immediate next step – (a little self promotion anyone?) sign up for Intead Plus and start watching the recording library of recruitment-focused webinars about:
- Using data effectively,
- Recruiting international students from US private high schools,
- Understanding Northeastern University’s approach to leading innovation and staffing for international recruiting programs,
- Our latest research on what Indian and Chinese parents think about a U.S. education
- Much more to come
Now let’s look at some of the issues that surfaced from Elizabeth’s well-researched reporting and some perspective you can share with your leadership on what this all means for your institution:
External Forces: stuff beyond your control
- Negative News Headlines: The challenges posed by the unwelcoming political rhetoric and policies flowing out of the White House, State Department, the Supreme Court and really, across the US. There are positive statements appearing as well, including the fantastic #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign. But let’s be clear, that campaign was launched to counterbalance the powerful negative messages that are heard by students and their parents around the world.
- Work Policies: Policies around work rights for international students, from OPT to H1-B programs being questioned and revised. Have you been involved in an H1-B application in the past 2 years? It’s a wholly different process and the chatter on international student forums lets prospective students know that what was once hard has become even harder here in the U.S.
- Visa Policies: The reality that the State Department’s directives to their consular officers to treat visa applications differently (Extreme Vetting) resulting in a higher number of visa denials in a wide range of countries, not just those on the US’s now infamous “Travel Ban” list. This reality is reducing the number of international students interested in the U.S. as a study destination. And for those who had the U.S. as their first and only choice, now have Canada, Germany and other countries on their consideration list as well.
- Safety: Concerns are rising dramatically for international parents and students. This needs no explanation.
- Currency Instability: The fluctuation in the value of the dollar against other currencies – always a factor with any international trade.
All of these external factors have pushed fewer students to even apply to US institutions driving down the potential population of interested families.
Internal Factors: stuff you can control
Overall Alignment: Making decisions without vetting them with faculty partners – and frankly, whether faculty are considered (or consider themselves) partners in these global initiatives. Lack of alignment between administrative departments from Recruiting to Enrollment Marketing to Student Services, IT and Alumni & Career Services. These players are all part of any successful student growth plan and they rarely support each other effectively.
Establishing an internal culture of seeing the big picture over one’s self interest is always challenging. Building a partnership with an external pathway provider (any pathway provider) when your internal team doesn’t play well together, is going to stumble and fall. You know who you are. And if you have this one covered, that's fantastic and you should let your team know how great they are, because most of your peer institutions don't have this.
Partner Management: Signed contracts with pathway providers, recruiting agents or global marketing agencies like Intead all require effective leadership and participation. These partnerships all have great potential to drive enrollment higher and diversify the educational experience IF those in charge put the time and resources into managing the process.
So often, the university leadership is tugged in too many directions. The many distractions of the job slow the process and important recruiting windows are missed – resulting in lower numbers until that window opens again next year. Happens all the time. You may be watching this happen at your institution right now and likely feeling a bit helpless. We can help. The obvious and difficult fix: devote the necessary managerial resources and get things done on time.
Messaging: Marketing approaches that articulate quality and career opportunity, with integrity, are going to win. Segmenting your global audiences – your whole team needs to understand that marketing to Vietnamese students is different than marketing to students in Brazil! Speaking to specific cultural motivations is essential. This takes time, resources. Creating a global marketing strategy is entirely doable. Make the effort and then execute and track.
A recent $35 Facebook ad A/B test we ran in India for 3 days for one of our clients drew 2,100 clicks from prospective MBA students. Yes, just $35. Compare that to the $5,000 per student recruiting fees some pathway providers build into their 10-year commitment contracts.
Eligibility Philosophy: Pathway providers and recruiting agents will always seek to lower eligibility requirements at the institutions they work with. These recruiting partners are supposed to find the passionate, hard working students, some of whom might struggle with grades or language proficiency and just need a chance. When this is true, good things result. A student with lower scores is able to demonstrate their abilities and both the student and institution benefit. Giving flexibility to your eligibility standards can be a good thing IF you trust your recruiting partners. There are challenges, of course. Getting faculty and other leadership to embrace this approach is key among them.
Our take: Open this door for a limited number of students with your best recruiting partners. Track the students’ progress over 2-4 years. Confirm the opportunity. Some of your recruiting partners will send you students that can truly cut it despite lower grades. Other recruiting partners may try to abuse the opportunity presented.
If you track and manage the process, you’ll know. And the data will demonstrate to your internal partners (faculty and administration) that the revised eligibility philosophy was a good idea.
All of these issues are touched upon in Elizabeth’s article. Real-world stories of the ongoing and shifting challenges of the global recruiting world. And those institutions finding long-term contracts (like 30-year contracts) alluring...
About Long-term Contracts
Last point in a super-long post (I know, right?): Here’s the thing about long-term contracts (some pathway providers are locking universities into a 30-year commitment!): They force your future colleagues to grapple with your decisions today and limit their options. Most 10- and 30-year contracts create inflexibility and hassle for the future leaders of the institution you work so hard to support.
True business partners offer flexibility and options. They foster an institution’s ability to adapt to change and follow the strongest path forward. Do those long-term contracts offer that flexibility?
Consider the EU as an example of the value of long-term commitments. When you make breaking a contract really difficult and painful, you force partners with a history of fickle and damaging behavior to work together because going their own way will be worse than separating (in most cases). That’s a good thing when you are talking about preventing wars and building broad economies. Brexit anyone?
On the flip side, the business community needs flexibility to adapt to changing markets, technology and consumer interests. Restrictive, long-term contracts assume that the long-term future needs will map to the current situation. In business, when has that ever been true?
Long-term business contracts typically favor just one party. It is only a matter of time before the other party ends up hating it. That’s when legal gets involved and no one is happy.
Our advice: don’t foist long-term inflexibility onto your future colleagues who will, years later, end up reviewing the minutes of your meetings and wondering, “How in the world did they think this was a good idea?” Be sure your vision and leadership are aligned to make that investment work with a partner that offers you flexibility now, and in the future.
Have I convinced you to read Elizabeth’s fantastic reporting yet? Hope so. Here’s a link to one of the primary articles: click here.