Global student recruitment, finding student segments domestically and abroad, is simply not rocket science.
We know the processes and don't need another generic report about what students are thinking and how important parents are to the process. If new student mobility trend data of significance emerges (thank you IIE and National Clearinghouse), you can count on us to evaluate it and report on it. But, most of the reports we are seeing right now from marketing agencies (like us) are rehashing everything we already know.
And annoyingly, they are somehow pointing to their nothing new findings as revelatory. Wut?
So, let’s get to work plotting out the work and bringing the successful results we all want.
The Formula: custom research on your differentiators, your strongest recruitment options (countries/regions), and messaging that engages your target audience on the channels they use.
That’s really about it. That’s what we need. Oh, and to do it successfully, that actually requires investment, technology, and expertise.
So...yes, trend analysis because decision making actually did change since 2019 - safety, cost, the value of education overall, visa issues - all much more significant. These factors existed before the pandemic, before the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the ever-horrific state of gun violence in the US. Not new info. All of these factors have been on students’ and parents’ minds for a while. Yours too, right?
And yet, international students continue to find value in a US education and the experience of living and studying in the US. And as they make their decisions, all the things we see in the latest reports and infographics about student mobility trends say essentially the same things we’ve seen for more than a decade.
Reputation matters. Rank matters (more in some regions than others). Career connections matter, parent opinions matter, etc., etc., etc. Tedious findings touted as new, ground-breaking, must-have trend analysis.
Read on for a few student influencers that are actually rising to the top of students' decision-making criteria, and more importantly, what all of this means for your institution's recruitment planning.
Here’s what is relatively new as influencing student decision-making:
- As stated above, safety and cost are among top concerns where previously they had been a bit lower in the decision pecking order.
- Career connections/opportunities/services becomes primary and justifies the cost – as part of the initial evaluation of your institution.
Important Note: Career considerations typically supersede campus experience, BUT…don’t discount the importance of campus experience (finding my tribe) in the next level of evaluation. This pattern of evaluation is often a factor of the student’s economic status. And since economically 95% of students are not in the top 5% (you see how that math works, right?), appealing to the larger share of prospective students has its marketing advantages. To be clear: Start with career outcomes and move on to campus experience. But please, please in your messaging and content, show them, don't tell them.
- Social justice including gender, diversity, and environmental concerns have become significant evaluation points. Not always all of them together. Might be just one that is uber important to your prospect, might be another. But these concerns are much more common now than they were a decade or even five years ago.
- And still, recognize that your specific academic offerings are typically the first thing a prospective student is going to look for before engaging in all the other lifestyle elements, e.g., if you don’t have that degree in cybersecurity, there’s no point in evaluating anything else.
So, here’s what you do with this information:
It can be a bit convoluted (still not rocket science though).
Your institution's social justice work might capture a prospective student's initial attention. The, "Well that's cool. I'm proud of them" reaction. But that is simply the attention-getting element. Now about the academic program that merits deeper evaluation. Do you have it? Now the game is really on.
This is why all this work really is not rocket science. It simply takes some creative thought and diligent work to move your target audience through the process of recruitment marketing. Whether your audience is domestic, international, non-traditional, high school, undergrad or grad. Put fingers to keyboard, marker to whiteboard, pen to paper, and plan the work. Then work the plan.
- Market research – identify the audience that is best for you
- Where are they? What do they like/want? What do they read? Why are you a good fit for them?
- Technology – be sure you have your underlying systems to disseminate information and track results.
- Messaging – engage them, convince them.
- Which message is YOUR hook?
- What is your leading message to capture interest?
- What is your nurture process to maintain interest and move them further down the decision path? Make them curious and want to evaluate further.
- Creative – disseminate your messages with great creative content, on the right channels, with the right tracking.
- Improve – tracking helps you know what is working and what is not. Pro Tip: with long sales cycle processes, improvement efforts take a bit more perseverance. We all know how easy it is to get distracted by competing priorities and staff turnover during a 12-month cycle and fail to review the valuable data right in front of you. Been there?
- Retention – provide a great student experience with on-campus services (academic, career, mental health, etc.).
Your team is critical throughout. The talent you put in place to manage and implement has everything to do with your success. Getting the right talent in place is difficult in academic settings that are often understaffed, under-resourced, and frustratingly bureaucratic in terms of addressing underperformance. (Frankly, almost all work environments are frustratingly bureaucratic in terms of addressing underperformance. Human nature errs toward denial and avoidance of tough conversations).
Our point: success comes from a great team working collaboratively (in-house talent or outsourced partnerships). With less than a great team, your results will suffer. Set your expectations accordingly. What constitutes a great team? That will have to be another blog post.
In terms of processes, innovation and flexibility are your friends when a market is in serious flux (and even when it is not). You must stay agile to be successful. Given the nature of most institutions with their silos and bureaucratic structures and typically slow pace, you’ll do better with a partner. A partner that knows the landscape, collaborates easily with your team, knows the resources and tech tools available around the globe, gets a real kick out of diving deep into the supporting data.
When you need that hand, we’re ready when you are.