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Recruiting Intelligence

10 Ways To Develop Strategic Advantage For Enrollment

The student recruitment landscape has been in a state of flux that was forced upon all of us. Institutions have adapted in obvious ways (ramping up online education) and subtler ways that vary by institution.

Looking a bit over the horizon, we recognize that there is always the potential for unanticipated disruptions in addition to the challenging factors we see very clearly. As we consider what is next, the lever that has the greatest value is flexibility. The ability to ramp up or down with relative ease. The avoidance of plans that lock us into something long-term constricting our ability to adapt as circumstances change.

Building Flexibility Into the System

With that in mind, we offer up a quick comparison of 10 ways to develop strategic advantage for enrollment and their relative flexibility. In this case, we measure flexibility by two factors:

  • Time: Investment of administrative/staff time into making it happen and sustaining it
  • Money: Investment of capital (cash out) to make it happen

When we consider time, we also think about commitment – alliances and partnerships come with contracts that may or may not be easy to modify or escape from as factors on the ground change.

All in all, we see the largest value in those options that offer the greatest flexibility – least amount of effort (time), least amount of financial investment (money), and ability to ramp up or down on short notice (flexible contracts).

This week, Brad Farnsworth, formerly at ACE and now running Fox Hollow Advisory, will be joining me to present at the CIEE Summit 2021. We will be discussing some of the options raised in this blog post and how they relate to institutional initiatives that deepen internationalization efforts.

Read on for more on those strategic advantages.

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Developing a Strategic Plan for International Student Recruitment

Before we dive into today's post, a quick note on some exciting upcoming opportunities to learn and connect.

In October, Intead will be taking a closer look at international student recruitment with two very different and powerful universities in two webinar events. We hope you can join us – we’ll leave time for Q&A!

  • October 5, NAFSA All-Region Summit: UMBC and Intead present “0-60 Internationalization” — Register HERE.
  • October 12, AIRC hosted Webinar: Technion Israel Institute of Technology and Intead present “Shifting Student Perspectives: Digital Marketing Now” — Free to AIRC members and $45 for non-members. Register HERE. (If your institution is not an AIRC member, hit us up for a code and we'll see about getting you past the velvet ropes.)

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Now, about strategic planning for international student enrollment: the more things change, the more they stay the same, right? Not so with our adjustment to the pandemic? Or, maybe the old adage continues to hold true.

Digital is more important than ever to attract your future students. Yet personal touch and support through the application process (think recruiting agents) is critical to get prospective students from awareness to enrolled. All that was old is new again.

Standing the Test of Time

Back in 2015, our colleague Lisa Cynamon Mayers (some of you long-time Intead evangelists will remember the wisdom she shared with all of us) wrote a great post about developing a strategic plan for international student recruitment. She spoke with colleagues at SUNY, Southern New Hampshire University, and Full Sail University to specifically compare/contrast what they were finding cost-effective at the time. A few valuable charts emerged as part of the 2014 AIRC conference presentation enrollment leaders shared at that time.

Much of the strategic perspective is timeless in its value to our work in enrollment management. We can see from this look back what remains true despite the changing political winds, health factors, and visa/travel regulations. We’ve made a few 2021 observations alongside the insightful points in Lisa’s 2015 post below.

How does your strategic enrollment plan look when analyzed along these lines? Read on for our valuable compare/contrast perspective. 

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Step-by-Step Digital Marketing with Intead Plus

Today we’re taking you behind the scenes of some of our most valuable Intead Plus tools.

Our Digital Marketing Worksheets.

Yep, you read that correctly. Good, old-fashioned pen-to-paper worksheets. Although if you decide to fill them out on your computer, we promise we won’t tell. After all, learning is moving online these days, haven’t ya heard?

Looking to engage a new market? Develop a new content strategy and dissemination plan? Get your new hires thinking through the international student recruitment process?


Last Chance: For our colleagues leading private high schools we are offering a free webinar today at 3pm (Eastern) with TABS (The Association of Boarding Schools) all about how student recruiting must be reimagined given the loss of recruitment travel. Register Here.


It’s all about the framework.

The Intead Digital Marketing Worksheets will guide you every step of the way forward — and ask the difficult questions. These are the worksheets we take folks through when we run our full-day global marketing workshops at AIRC and our International Student Recruitment Bootcamps. So, really helpful during those new recruitment season kickoff meetings.

All of the worksheets mentioned in today’s post are available to Intead Plus members and are tried and tested. Intead Plus members receive full access to an extensive (and exclusive) library of marketing intelligence materials (including our seminal eBook, 88 Ways to Recruit International Students, now an industry standard in its second edition), podcasts, webinars, and more, with new market research being released each year.

Read on for a sneak peek at these valuable resources to kickstart your global approach and your digital marketing strategy. Whether you’re just in the early stages of a new initiative or in the process of developing a digital campaign this content is going to be helpful. And if you want these tools at your fingertips 24/7, you know what to do.

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Working with Agents in a COVID-Era World

You didn’t think we’d forget about student recruitment agents in our COVID blog coverage, did you?

A word to the wise: many of those institutions that have weathered the COVID-19 storm best made strategic investments in enrollment marketing during past downturns while competitors snoozed.

We know that agents are top of mind for many of our readers. Our post on how much to pay commission-based student recruiters was #1 in our top blog hits of last year and continues to inform those seeking perspective and justification. Our agent management eBook has been well read (downloaded) for years (thank you, AIRC!).

Recent surveys of education agencies around the world paint a clear picture. Agents have been hit by the pandemic. Hard.

From the Federation of Education and Language Consultant Associations (Felca): 46% of agents surveyed in a recent study reported a 90% drop in business between February and August of this year. Nearly a quarter reported a 100% drop.

Our university partners around the world are feeling this pain as well. The international student recruitment pathway that produced so many great applications has become a trickle or stopped completely.

Some leading agencies predict agent use will soar post-COVID as some institutions double down on their in-country strategy and others begin honing their agent channels to make up for lost opportunities in traditional international recruitment travel and student fairs. Take that with a grain of salt. The near-term future is still exceedingly ambiguous. Physical gathering (conferences and fairs) remain a desired state, not reality. International travel, well, when was the last time you took out your passport?

Though we aren’t seeing the rebound we all want just yet, there are several indicators in the agent market that suggest the way forward. Agents have long been a reliable and valuable source of students (all caveats about vetting your agent network still apply. Thank you again, AIRC and ICEF!).

Read on for a look at the pandemic’s impact on agents and what it means for your institution’s international recruitment strategy going forward.

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Connecting the Dots for Enrollment Success

Let’s pause for just a minute or two and take a few deep breaths. The pace of all that is going on, right?

With this post, we are going to connect a few dots. Reconfirm the why’s and how’s of what we are doing in the enrollment management arena.

Right now, we see civil unrest around us that is the expression of communities not understanding each other. Lack of cultural understanding, lack of connection, lack of empathy, all leading to severe consequences. This is an age-old struggle and we, in the education sector, pour our hearts into changing the underlying factors that contribute to the mess we find ourselves in.

Getting our work right really does matter. Education IS such a huge part of moving our communities in the right direction.

For most of us, maybe all of us, recent events make it crystal clear why we do this: every mind opened, every cultural connection built, is a win.

To achieve loftier goals, the academic institution must remain economically viable. And we need the students to enroll.

We know, looking ahead, more dramatic change is coming as we navigate various immigration decrees and virus news. We’ve all been working really hard to maintain the pace and make smart decisions. So, let’s just pause and reflect for a moment and connect some dots.

In short, the process is: view the data, assess the tools, make a plan, execute. Sounds simple, right ; -)

Our Intead Plus library of recruitment content and worksheets has supported so many. It’s out there if you need it. Below we review our process with some helpful lists to get you thinking, considering.

This is such an important time to plan and act.

Often, as the team here begins our projects with a new client, institutional leaders apologize for the many silos across their campuses that hold information and work far too independently. We are often tasked with gathering the necessary information and bringing as much unity to the siloed teams as possible.

Deep breath.

And again.

Getting our important work done the best way: There are so many approaches and so many adjustments that are necessary as circumstances and the people involved shift. All of our talents for listening, embracing and connecting ideas, all of this is needed from all of us.

There are underlying processes to how we do enrollment marketing that are essential and consistently required regardless of the circumstances. These processes adapt as situations change. 

Knowing where your processes stand, and which dots might need more attention has real value. Read on and consider whether your enrollment management system’s dots are functioning holistically.

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Our Top 10 Blog Posts of 2019

You have spoken!

After a busy year of developing academic recruitment plans, speaking at conferences, creating compelling marketing campaigns, publishing new innovative research, and of course, sharing all the best stuff with our blog readers, we can now tell you…of all our publishing in 2019, these posts most caught your attention.

And since you have been busy as well, we know some of you may have missed our most useful stuff.

Below are posts that had the most clicks and shares – so as you peruse, note the “email this post” button at the bottom to help out your colleagues who are responsible for one enrollment thing or another.

Read on for links to 2019’s Top 10 blog hits and (bonus) our inspiring Staff Pick!

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Working with Education Agents: What Now?

This week, we are taking a look back at one of the more controversial topics (still!) in international recruitment – the use of agents. 

Originally, we thought this discussion was done when NACAC agreed that there was, in fact, an ethical way to engage agents to support your international student recruiting. Well…the debate wasn't quite over, for some.

We’ve all heard the education agent debate—how do I find and sustain ethical and productive relationships that benefit both my institution and my prospective students? How do I know whether I am working with the right agents? And ultimately—is using agents worth the risk? (Because we all know there are some bad actors out there).

This week we are taking a look at the regulations and a few of the underlying arguments and the evidence on either side.  

In September of 2016, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) amended two parts in their guidance to U.S. educators on using education agents. This code of ethics, titled Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP), was originally adopted in 2014. This document lays out the code of ethics and standards for the association and its members.

Then, in April of 2017, the U.S.-based Middle States Commission on Higher Education proposed new policy languages that would prohibit use of incentive-based compensation for international student recruitment. That objection eventually died on the vine.

Add to that the changes taking place in China and Vietnam around how these countries have recently relaxed regulations for recruiting agencies so that almost anyone can raise their hand and announce they are now a student recruiting shop.

Yet, the American Council on Education (ACE) recently released a report on internationalization efforts by U.S. institutions and they shared this: In 2011, 17% of respondents were engaged with education agents compared with 45% in 2016. Hello!

Our own recent research with FPP EDU Media that we presented at NAFSA in 2017 identified that 50% of international students find education agents helpful as they evaluate their options. And our sample size? More than 1M students surveyed resulted in 57,000+ student responses from 65 countries! (Find the link to our slides below). Those results are some of the most substantial and reliable in our industry.

Bottom Line: While the use of education agents by U.S. institutions is on the rise (considerably!), concerns about unethical practices are being addressed. Have you figured out where the best and most reliable agents are around the world? Is your institution too fearful of the downside? If so, you are probably not relying on THE recruiting channel that pretty much all institutions with any significant increase in international student population are using. And they use agents successfully. If your goal is to increase international student enrollment, ignore this recruiting channel at your own peril.

Read on to get some of the details of recent regulatory challenges and our insights into using agents to support your international student recruiting. This channel cannot be ignored. The risks are really only in whether you put the right processes in place to select and manage your recruiting team.

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Africa's Tech Hubs: Your New Student Source?

Looking for new ways to connect with students from some of Africa’s biggest providers of international students, including Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya? Trendy “tech hubs” are an interesting new student source to keep an eye on.

Diversification is key to a successful global recruitment strategy. With recruiting challenges and competition rising in China and India, smart money is looking at emerging pockets of talented and motivated students. These locales will not achieve the size of either India or China in terms of total numbers of students sent abroad. But that's not really the point. 

When you consider return on investment for institutions with low brand awareness, recruitment sources outside of India and China present real opportunities.

For U.S. institutions looking for talented international students (particularly at the graduate level), Africa's tech hubs may be just the place to forge valuable connections.

We've got your attention now, right? Read on for the valuable information you need to make solid budget allocation decisions.

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The Risk of Following vs. The Value of Leading

Reflecting on AIEA conversations and what we are seeing in the field, I find myself thinking about the risk of being a follower and the value of being a strategic leader.

  • Followers see where the crowd is headed and go there without due diligence.
  • Leaders see where the crowd is headed and then check the numbers.

This is important. Increasingly so.

The effort to recruit international students is heating up in the US. The pressure on university administrators is growing. With India and China sending the most students to the US, most newcomers to the field – the universities finally joining the fray and looking to diversify their student body – are turning to these source countries. It can be a mistake.

We are seeing the global education agent network being pressured to produce more students for more campuses. That increased pressure is going to bring us renewed stories of fraud and inappropriate recruiting behavior. We don't want to see anyone caught up in that mess.

It is important, REALLY important, to align your team with talent – the kind of partners who don't cut corners and have your best interests at heart. This field is full of questionable characters, as we all know. Many of us have the scars to prove it.

Following our travels to San Diego for our Annual Student Recruitment Bootcamp and moving on to DC for AIEA, the Intead team is grateful for all of the opportunities to connect face-to-face with you, our colleagues and friends in such a challenging time for our industry. (More on our Bootcamp in a post in March.)  Focusing on AIEA for a moment, we have to thank AIEA's Darla Deardorff for feeding so many of us with great information and wonderful food for a few days in DC. The AIEA conference was well run and well delivered. Informational and so often inspiring.

During the conference, we had the pleasure of giving presentations on enrollment trends with Kaplan International and on US–India university partnerships with Monmouth University and Sannam S4. Both sessions were filled with lively discussion and audience engagement. As always, we shared ideas and had fun learning from each other. Thank you to all who attended! It is always a pleasure.

Read on for more reflections and insights from the conferences and my thoughts on enrollment trends and predictions. 

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NAFSA 2017 Follow-Up...Your Next Steps Are Clear

To all the friends we saw at NAFSA, I hope your week was valuable on many levels. I found this year’s conference more inspiring than the past few. Perhaps because we all have a renewed sense of purpose to prove the value of our work and our worldview.

I shared this sentiment with a colleague the other day and she sent back, “Agreed!”

There is much to consider as we move forward with our international student recruiting strategies. One thing is clear: waiting for the dust to settle is NOT AN OPTION!

When we shared our 2017 survey results with a nice-sized crowd at NAFSA this year, there were a few uncomfortable moments. The data regarding student sentiment about the US and the UK is not good news. What is important here is to take steps to mitigate the negative sentiment that is out there.

No question, international students are annoyed with US and UK foreign policy statements (to say the least). We can only imagine what it must be like to be a young person with a global mindset watching the leaders and citizens of important countries say, in effect, “We don’t want you here!”

Thanks for dashing idealism and entrepreneurialism around the world!

By making visas harder to obtain. By making customs more annoying to navigate. By reducing access to jobs and training opportunities. When posting salacious international headlines on a regular basis. The fires of discord are being stoked.

So what do we do in times like these? Read on for a subset of tips we shared at the conference. Our slides will be available next week.

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