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Recruiting Intelligence

900+ Institutions Report on Internationalization

This month the American Council on Education (ACE) released the 5th edition of its signature “Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses” report. Some say it’s the most dynamic edition yet as it lays bare both pre-pandemic and COVID-era trends to reveal our collective internationalization priorities during a particularly precarious time.

But let’s be honest, it has been a precarious time here in the US and globally since 2016 at this point. According to one data point, COVID crashed internationalization (our words, not ACE’s).

Consider this: In 2011, the percentage of respondents who said their institutional internationalization was “very high,” “high,” or “moderate” was 56%, rising to 66% in 2016, 64% during 2016-2020, and 40% in 2020-21.

Clearly travel limitations, from the basic human fear to actual travel cut offs, that COVID brought had a clear and significant impact on student mobility (obvious) and institutional responses. Yet, the international community turmoil brought on by the US and other nations’ broad and deep political upheaval since 2016 has changed the landscape in terms of regional student mobility and study option perspectives as well.

Overall, a very steep decline. But not the full story. And the latest IIE data release helps tell that story. But, one report analysis at a time. There are only so many words we can all digest in one sitting. And our 5 key findings below will set you up for some great conversations with your internal colleagues.


50% off ($400 savings) on Intead Plus Complete membership for all registrants attending our Global Marketing Workshop in San Diego. Deadline for this offer is Friday, Nov 18, 2022.

If you are attending the AIRC or ICEF Conferences - here is a huge plus opportunity. 

The Intead/San Diego State University One-Day Workshop on December 13th will be a hands-on opportunity to learn from an awe-inspiring international student recruitment faculty.

  • A full day of international student recruitment strategy and execution discussion
  • Two luminary keynotes
    • Luncheon on Social Justice with Dr. Jewell Winn and Dr. Adrienne Fusek
    • Dinner on Chinese Student Influencers with Dr. Yingyi Ma and Brad Farnsworth
  • At $350 for the day (inclusive of all meals), this learning opportunity is a steal - basically free when you factor in the 1-year Intead Plus membership.

Come with Questions. Leave with a Plan.


As Dr. Maria Claudia Soler, ACE’s senior research analyst, learning and engagement division (research), and lead author of the report, told University World News in a November 8, 2022, article, “While the pandemic impacted internationalization across the board and many internationalization activities were disrupted, we also observed serendipitous outcomes. For instance, institutions used technology to expand virtual international internships, international student recruitment and course-level collaborations in ways that used to be unthinkable some years ago.”

Nodding? You should be. Even without the data, we know this to be true. It was a wild ride and pretty much every surviving institution learned how to adapt, and quickly. Most are better for it. But that’s a different post.

One question we want to see added to the survey and report next time around: the role of the CFO in all of this. How connected to (and aware of) the internationalization priorities are they? Budget approval is key to internationalization efforts. Presidents, Provosts and SIO are all reliant on a CFO’s leadership and insight.

Today we share 5 key findings from the report that really popped for us. And we offer our take. Read on

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For Chinese Students, Authenticity Counts

Let’s talk about specific tactics for mid- to lower-funnel marketing communications. And specifically, what do Chinese students really want? And how are they making their decisions? For those in our line of work, it’s on everyone’s minds right now. A lot.

On average, international students are receiving 3-5 admissions letters. What they do next to select their top institution has everything to do with the information they have available to them. This is no time for institutions to let go of the recruitment communications.

With all of the turmoil and enrollment fluctuation with Chinese students in the US, when we publish on this topic we see a significant uptick in our blog and site traffic. What to do about Chinese student enrollment is a popular topic. See our latest relevant insights here:

While recent declines in Chinese enrollment in the US have a range of reasons (slow visa processing, political tensions, Covid response disparities, US violence, economic turmoil), the past decade has also brought increasing global competition for Chinese students. The intensity has only grown in the past few years.

Look, beyond all the headlines about this decline in Chinese student changes of heart, we are willing and able to predict the future. Similar to Warren Buffet’s prognostications about the stock market (it will go up, but we don’t know exactly when it will go up), we are extremely confident that China as a source of international students will not struggle forever. Over time, it will return in strength. In the meantime, it continues to be a dominant source among all international sources.

The institutions ready to take advantage of global recruiting opportunities will be the winners. That’s why when we ran across a handful of new student handbooks written by current US-based Chinese students for prospective Chinese students, we wanted to learn more.

Sure, the handbook idea is nothing new. What really intrigued us was the fact that so many institutions don’t actually have this tool in play. Seriously? We all know how meaningful personalized, authentic, and tailored communication is to international students. Going the extra mile takes your recruitment and retention efforts so much further.

Truly, it’s the small authentic gestures that count.

So we did a small thing. We took a minute to review the handbooks (they are written in Chinese for incoming Chinese students). It’s always interesting to see what current international students think is important for the newbies. And it’s important you know, too.

Read on to learn what these handbooks have to say and how they are being used.

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Insider Take: Chinese Parent/Student Priorities, Now

With Chinese student numbers in serious flux in the US, we thought we’d check in with our colleague Sally Zhu who is currently working with international students in Ningbo, China. Our goal: find out what’s working in recruitment for institutions across the Pacific.

Sally, a contributing Intead Marketing Data Analyst and US PhD aspirant, grew up in China and acquired her post-secondary degrees in the US, returning to her home country in 2020 where she landed a job with a sino-foreign university. Today she’s working as an international student support advisor there. She has a front-row seat to what is on Chinese students’ minds. 

We know this topic will be part of the hallway and session chatter throughout the NAFSA regional conferences coming up this fall. Intead will be discussing a range of student recruitment and marketing topics at Nafsa Region XI in Manchester, NH in October. If you will be there, be in touch to set up a coffee date with Ben or Iliana. We can also meet folks in California in December when AIRC and ICEF fire up. Look for some big news very soon about the learning opportunities coming up.

A couple of weeks ago, Sally sat down (virtually) with the Intead team to give her boots-on-the-ground account of how Chinese students and parents are evaluating their options today. Read on for some valuable perspective on the student recruitment market everyone is fretting about.

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Recruiting Intel Digest: The Most Useful Stuff from Q1 2022

The first quarter of 2022 dealt its fair share of surprises, and then some. The pandemic loosened its grip (for the time being). Northern Europe was thrust into a war. These events are deeply personal and deeply tied to our everyday work in higher education. And then there were the everyday surprises courtesy of another enrollment and budget planning season. Still, the world kept turning and we kept acting on the opportunities we see for improvement in everything we are able to touch.

In the midst of all this, you may have missed a few of our top posts. No matter! We’re here to point you in the right direction. Read on for our quarterly recap of the most valuable stuff from Q1 2022 and the Intead resources available to you.

And, if you’ll be attending the NAFSA 2022 in Denver (May 31-June 3), be in touch so we can set aside time for a coffee and exchange of ideas. We’ll have 4 NAFSA presentations all covering different aspects of global recruiting. One of them has been selected by NAFSA for live-stream to give more folks access to the amazing panel that includes Benedict College, Clark University, and CIEE. More on that in the coming weeks.

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Quick Hit Regional Insights for Student Recruitment

You won’t reach students in China using the same tactics you use to reach students in Brazil. Or Nigeria. Seems obvious to those recruiting students internationally, but you’d be surprised by what some marketers out there are pushing. It takes more than a tweak in ad copy to woo prospects from different countries. It requires a good deal of nuanced cultural insight.

Yes, you have Google Analytics and enrollment data to tell you which sending countries show interest in your institution (you’re using those, right?). But it’s deeper than this, as you well know. That’s why we’ve updated one of our most popular tools: the Country Comparison Cheat Sheet.

This easy-to-read spreadsheet breaks down key stats on the top 16 countries sending students to US institutions. We sourced the latest data from IIE, IBISWorld, InterNations, WorldAtlas, XE, and more to offer insights into each country.

The numbers we share represent data you could gather on your own, but we did the work for you. And we are connecting dots that don’t often get connected - though they should be.

Read on to download this free tool for you and your team.

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A 2022 Must-Read -- AIEA's Handbook of International Higher Education

In the age of snack-size content, The Handbook of International Higher Education, 2nd Edition is for a hungrier reader.

This deep-dive resource, thoughtfully delivered to all of us by AIEA, provides exceptional context for many of the issues we are all facing now and offers a glimpse of what lies ahead.

The book explores the evolution of student mobility, commercialization of academia, higher ed-tech, the student experience, and more. Collectively we’ve spurred so much change since the handbook first published just a decade ago. Not to mention the issues that have changed us (immigration, social justice, COVID, technology).

Side note: if you’ll be attending the 2022 AIEA conference in New Orleans (Feb 20-23), be in touch and we’ll find time for a coffee and an exchange of ideas.

There’s little doubt that we are in the midst of profound transformation. How we move forward must be informed by where we’ve been. Our colleagues agree international education is vital to an increasingly interconnected world. Yet, even this bedrock is evolving. Once driven by societal cooperation, contribution, and service, there is an undeniable shift toward competition and marketization in higher education. Perceptions and approaches vary depending on where you are in the world and the primary sources of your institution’s funding (i.e., government vs. private).

Read on for our quick summary of what the handbook offers us from a student recruitment point of view. A piece of the higher ed puzzle that is evolving with quickening speed.

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US vs China: One Chinese Student’s Journey Through the Pandemic

Two years into the pandemic and we are still wondering what this elusive “new normal” is going to be. While the authorities and virus hash it out, your job is to help students navigate the shifting winds so they can more confidently enroll for the next semester. (We’re looking at you international admissions teams.)

What we know for sure: international students are eager to get on with their lives after waiting for Covid to pass. But, we know it’s not so simple.

Visa wait times, continued, sporadic travel restrictions, and challenges in accessing and validating US-approved vaccinations are causing delays and headaches.

There is wisdom in listening to real stories from real students studying through this very real pandemic. Today, I encourage you to read this tale of two countries by Intead Marketing Data Analyst and PhD aspirant Sally Zhu. Sally is another outstanding example of the value of the US OPT policies. We are so pleased to see this program recently expanding the definition of STEM and the 3-year work option in the US.

Side note: if you’ll be attending the 2022 AIEA conference in New Orleans (Feb 20-23), be in touch and we’ll find time for a coffee and an exchange of ideas.

Read on as Sally shares her dual experience of living in the US and China these past two years. It offers student enrollment managers and recruiters insights into messaging and approaches to pandemic-related communications. As marketers, topics that are important to our audiences are also important to us, right?

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Intead’s Top 10 Blog Posts of 2021

Enrollment professionals around the world tapped and clicked throughout 2021 looking for insight. They found it here on the Intead blog and now you can see what resonated most. Presenting, our Top 10 Blog Posts of 2021.

It was a tough year with far too much ambiguity. Intead’s global network kept readers abreast of what students and parents are thinking and how marketing messages can reach them.

Would you like a cup of coffee in New Orleans with us at AIEA? We’ll be there and look forward to a busy schedule. Be in touch if you’d like to connect. We have a few amazing restaurant recommendations we can share, assuming that kind of gathering is safe and comfortable by the time the event rolls around.

Read on for our Top Posts of 2021 (links included). Great for sharing with your team to help them think creatively about their respective roles and assignments.

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An OPT Reflection: Starting Points and Destinations

The student journey from one place to another has common elements. It starts with an intense desire to learn and explore. Why else would someone spend so much time, energy, money?

OPT is an essential tool that benefits us all. There is no question. Occasionally, we need to be reminded.

  • As a follow on to the 2021 AIRC conference just completed which is all about creating great learning experiences for students around the world,
  • As our final post for the year (we will take a break and return on January 5, 2022),

Please drink in this optimistic view of how everyone in our field contributes to making the world more connected, stronger, and safer.

Xi Chen held a very important role at Intead almost a decade ago as the company was in the early stages of making a name for itself. She helped us set our course with a fierce dedication and rare level of talent that set a bar for our future international student interns. We asked her to reflect on what her OPT experience at Intead meant to her. We know how much it meant to us!

In writing about her OPT experience, Xi sent us this quote: "Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another."  ~ John Dewey

Read on to get a first-hand look beautifully shared by Xi Chen. This is all about what you are setting your students up to achieve, personally, and for the world all around us.

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Meet Your Strategic Enrollment Advisors

As an education professional, you know deeply the power of a knowledgeable guide to expand your mind, challenge your beliefs, and push you to new heights.

Whether this guide takes the form of a favorite professor, dean, mentor, colleague (or a favorite blog), even the most experienced leaders among us can benefit from a little outside perspective and wisdom from time to time (read: always).

For Intead, that source of wisdom is our recently expanded Intead Research Advisory Board, a veritable who’s who of education industry leaders who guide our student recruitment and enrollment research on both domestic and international approaches.  

Don’t worry, we’re not just here today to sing their praises (although we could do that all day) or talk about how they help us look smart (although they do). ;)

The truth is, the Intead Research Advisory Board isn’t really for Intead. They’re here to serve you. With their expertise, we are able to provide you with fresh and deeply knowledgeable perspectives and new research and insights on topics that drive our industry and your institution forward. We’re ever grateful for their valuable work.

Read on to learn more about this powerful line-up, how their wealth of experience can help to power your institution, and the market intelligence we are working on and presenting soon.

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