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Recruiting Intelligence

Learning the Safety Dance: Reassuring Prospective Students


Learning the Safety Dance: Reassuring Prospective Students

Let's reflect on the recent past and discover how the trends inform our thinking and doing.

Right now, we are reflecting on the fact that between 2016 and 2017, the prospective international students we surveyed in partnership with FPP EDU Media reported increased interest in safety. In our 2016 survey, 23% of students indicated that their sense of personal safety in the destination country was a strong factor in their decision making. In 2017, 88% of students said that a strong campus safety program was helpful or very helpful to their decision making.

Although the questions were slightly different between the two surveys, we were struck by the notable jump. The significant difference in the figures suggests a dramatic rise in the importance of this message to international students considering studying on any given campus.

The FPP EDU Media - Intead Know Your Neighborhood Reports were recently covered by The PIE News in a January 2018 story. Personal safety is on students' minds.

The message is clear: in an increasingly unpredictable world, prospective students are thinking more and more about their personal safety. As a result, we are seeing more and more institutions eager to counteract prospective students’ concerns that the U.S. is a place where outsiders are unwelcome and unsafe.

In our work, we develop customized content and design to help each institution promote its strongest features and opportunities to their student audiences. We work hard to educate the field on the trends and what the data tells us to do next as marketers.

We are looking forward to sharing our research and action plans in sunny San Diego where we will host our second annual International Student Recruitment Bootcamp with CGACC from Feb 11-13. The following week we will be in Washington, DC, presenting more data at the annual AIEA conference.

We hope to see many of you at one or the other and we hope you might consider joining us at our presentation with Lakshmi Iyer from Sannam S4 and Jon Stauff of Monmouth University on  Maximizing Your Indian University Partnerships during AIEA! Please be in touch if you'd like to schedule a coffee and evaluate opportunities to enhance your recruitment program. 

So, the million-dollar question is: how do you communicate that your campus is a safe place to call home...without unintentionally scaring prospective students away?

Sending a message of safety is trickier than it might seem. Our advice? Learn the Safety Dance.

No, we’re not talking about the incredibly catchy (or do we mean ‘annoying’?) 80’s hit. We’re talking about the delicate choreography of reassuring students that your campus is safe—without managing to make them more concerned in the process.

The data you may want to review is in our 2016 and 2017 Know Your Neighborhood reports produced with FPP EDU Media and the strength of their access to 1.6 million prospective international students.

When you read that students are concerned about safety, your impulse may be to tout the way you keep students safe: for instance, your large on-campus security force, late-night-ride service, or on-campus emergency call boxes. But universities who hit the safety precaution theme too aggressively can sometimes shoot themselves in the foot. Overdoing these points can actually make their campus seem less safe.

If safety precautions are mentioned too heavily on your website or in your other promotional materials, students may take away exactly the opposite message of what you hoped to convey. Highlighting preventative measures too heavily can communicate that your campus is a dangerous place that is kept in check only through special university effort.

The secret to more effective safety messaging is to be clear, but not concerning. Your prospective students need to know that they are coming to a campus where students of all types live happily and without fear—a fact that is more persuasive, and less alarming, than the size of the on-campus police force. By focusing on positive messages (think of themes like “welcoming,” “diversity,” and “community”) you will communicate that your campus is a place where all students can feel at ease.

Consider the messenger as well. Hearing about a welcoming and diverse campus from the head of admissions or even the univeristy president may not resonate as well as hearing it from the international students themselves. Sprinkle in a few international professors and you are starting to show rather than tell.

Video testimonials are going to work well here. At the very least, use photos with quotes. Give prospective students the images of your vibrant student body and campus at night. 

Key takeaways for communicating effectively with prospective students: 

  • Focus on positive messages.
  • Choose your messengers based on who will create a strong sense of affinity for your audience.
  • Join the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign so that students know that they will be wanted community members – not targets of racial or religious hatred.
  • Feature photographs and videos of a diverse and active student body. Prospective enrollees will feel safer knowing that students who look like them can be found (smiling and safe!) on campus.
  • Showcase testimonials from international students and professors. Even if the testimonial does not specifically touch on safety, the message will be conveyed nonetheless. Any positive testimonial comes with an unspoken subtext: “I feel happy and secure here.”

Need some expert dance training? Here at Intead, we like to think that we’re pretty darn good at crafting nuanced and effective messaging.  We’re always happy to talk to clients, new, old and just considering, about how they can better convey all the opportunity, excitement and security their institution has to offer.

Now is no time to sit on your hands. Get up and dance.