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Recruiting Intelligence

Prospective Students Seek a Career Network (Part 1)

Going to university remains a search for direction and a process of maturation. And yet, there is a culture shift that has been growing over the past few decades. That culture shift is around the value of degrees vs. short-term certificates. It is around the value of a traditional 4-year university education vs. acquiring the skills to quickly land a valuable job. Cybersecurity and data analytics anyone?

Before we dive in, how confident are you with your selection of international student recruitment markets right now? You, our blog subscribers, have first shot at this limited seating workshop.


Among our colleagues in this field, we see a tremendous thirst for gathering and evaluating our options, with time to really talk it through. The Intead/San Diego State University One-Day Workshop will be a hands-on opportunity to learn from an awe-inspiring international student recruitment faculty.

  • Come with questions, leave with a plan.
  • Two luminary keynotes
    • Luncheon on Social Justice with Dr. Jewell Winn and Adrienne Fusek
    • Dinner on Chinese Student Influencers with Dr. Yingyi Ma and Brad Farnsworth
    • A full day of international student recruitment strategy and execution discussion
  • At $200 for the day (inclusive of all meals), this learning opportunity is a steal. (Pricing goes up to $350 on October 24, 2022).

For most undergraduates, studying at a university is now the first opportunity to interact with and cultivate the network connections that are so vital to getting a job and building a successful career in the 21st-century global economy.

In their recently published book, The Real World of College: What Higher Education is and What It Can Be, authors Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner note the shift in attitude and expectations among students from ‘we’ to ‘I’.

“The prevalence of ‘I’ over ‘we’ gives insight into what we believe is a troubling problem for the sector of higher education—students’ preoccupation with ‘self,’” Fischman notes.

Now we can debate if this shift is troublesome. Maybe. Maybe not. But we can’t deny the shift in attitudes toward it and how this new mindset should influence your recruitment strategies.

Read on to learn how a shift in strategy can help you secure stronger enrollment among the so-called ‘I’ generation…

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You Mean My Opinion Matters? The Power of International Student Internships

Does your institution work hard to develop employer connections?

Due to the pandemic, Intead paused its international student internship program. We are so glad to have it back as we return to the office.

As a rising Junior from Germany studying at UMass Amherst, Klara Lehmann thinks a lot about her future. She jumped at the chance to intern at Intead over the summer break. We were lucky to have her thoughtful and thorough approach to our work.

The level of effort most institutions put into developing career-shaping opportunities for their students typically underwhelms. Students, like Klara, who push for opportunities are far more likely to succeed than those who do not. So many students require additional motivation and support from their institutions to develop skills through internships.

Yet, skills development may not be the most valuable aspect of internships. From what we have seen, the real value is in how students develop an understanding, outside the classroom, of what they would like to develop into, what they would like their future to be. It is all about learning in a different environment. The networking and resume content doesn't hurt, though.

Learn with us:

  • Recruiting from Bangladesh: The Intead team will be presenting an AIRC Webinar on Wednesday, October 12, 2022. The process and results of our recent digital campaign recruiting international students for Truman State University will be on full display. Register HERE.
  • Global Marketing Strategy & Campaign Analytics: Ben and Iliana will be presenting on a range of marketing strategy and analytics sessions with colleagues from Northeastern University, Clark University, Central Connecticut State University, and University of New Hampshire at the NAFSA Region XI Conference in Manchester, NH, Nov 18-20, 2022. Click HERE to schedule a time to meet us.

Read on for a firsthand look at Klara’s reflections on her internship experience. Consider who, on your team, from career services on up, needs to hear this message. Internship experiences and the student stories you can share with your prospective students will go a long way toward differentiating your institution in a competitive market. Klara’s story makes the case for your institutional investment very clear.

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When Traditional Student Markets Weaken, Look to Africa: Part 2

All eyes on China is not a winning international student recruitment strategy today. Not that it ever was. The stronger approach: diversifying the pool of countries your institution pulls from. We’ve been saying this for more than a decade. Institutional budget allocations have not always heeded the advice.

We get it. Student volume and confidence in achieving enrollment targets have driven academic CFOs and others who manage risk to take the more conservative path. Over the past decade+, our clients are typically those interested in pushing beyond the conservative global recruitment path. They are the institutions that recognize the value of building a broad range of relationships to feed their student enrollment.

This diversification, both domestic and international, provides for more long-term stability. That strategy is becoming far more attractive to many more institutions today. And that strategy takes time and investment to execute well, to build a reliable and diverse supply chain as it were.

Last week we wrote about the three key things to look for in markets ripe for international student recruitment: a growing youth population, rising incomes, and employment opportunities for returning graduates. And a growing list of countries in Africa is meeting the short(er) list for institutions seeking international students. It may be time you take a closer look at this region.

Here’s the link to Part 1 in this 2-part series (in case you missed it). Today we offer student recruitment insights for Ethiopia, South Africa, Morocco, and Tanzania.

And for more African student recruitment insights from our pre-Covid research (still highly relevant as you develop your recruitment plans), check out:

With a nod to last week’s post (with many useful links for the careful planner that we know you are), important to note that there is competition for these students from attractive and less expensive institutions in Russia (before the Ukrainian crisis), France, Germany, China, and some Middle Eastern countries.

In our discussion of 7 African nations, we cite a variety of useful sources to demonstrate how varied information sources will add to your country and cultural perspectives. Hopefully through this post and the next, you will find some new research sites to support your planning. (We love participating in that broader teaching mission as well).

Read on for tips on recruiting students from Ethiopia, South Africa, Morocco, and Tanzania

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When Traditional Markets Weaken, Look to Africa: Part 1

The best markets for international student recruitment have three key things going for them:

  • a growing youth population, 
  • rising incomes, and
  • employment opportunities for returning graduates.

The African continent has a number of under-utilized recruitment hubs that boast all three.

The three bullet points above are useful generic perspective applicable to pretty much any institution – higher ed and private high schools. But what about your specific institution?

How do you make headway in the new(ish) student recruitment markets that African countries represent? Will your differentiators resonate there? Which channels will reach your ideal student segments?

Perhaps start with some of our analysis with helpful, still valid insights compiled prior to Covid. You’ll appreciate the discussion of recruiting agents, creative partnerships, and other valuable recruiting channels:

To be clear, African countries, as sources of international students will not replace the flow of students coming out of China. So, if your enrollment goals are all about achieving target numbers and not about diversifying your campus, you may hesitate to invest here.

And yet, the thing about hitting your enrollment goals is that you win by building strong relationships and pipelines. Clearly, China and India have the volume and the larger accessible market size, but your institution needs student recruitment opportunities where you can be truly competitive. And diversifying your campus has rewards that speak directly to your institution’s broader teaching mission. Seeking less common sources of international students is one way you do all that.

An increasing number of institutions are approaching the Intead team to explore further afield. A welcome and important mindset. While regular readers of our blog know we continue to share perspectives on, and implement recruitment strategies for, traditional student sources (China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, S. Korea). With more institutions seeking new markets, it is a good time to revisit the approach to Africa as a valuable source.

Obviously, the pandemic slowed the inflow of international students from all parts of the globe, and Africa is no exception. But now, as pandemic restrictions ebb and economies recover, smart institutions are bringing Africa back into their awareness as a prime source of engaged, qualified students.

In fact, more than a few African countries have achieved the World Bank’s “middle economy” status and are expanding their leadership in sectors such as agriculture, oil and gas, and tech. These industries offer promising careers but tend to demand higher education degrees. Foreign degrees draw attention to job candidate resumes. Many US institutions offer long-established degrees and certifications that African higher education institutions are still developing.

Important to note that there is competition for these students. While the US has a strong draw (the US brand and all that), Russia (before the Ukrainian crisis), France, Germany, China, and some Middle Eastern countries have been courting students from African countries for a while with less expensive degrees than are typically found in the US.

Also interesting to note that over the past 5 years, both the US and China have each invested in the African continent at around $40B annually. Much of the investment has gone toward construction (roads/transportation) and mining.

According to The Brookings Institute, “China’s influence goes beyond the trade relationship: It is also the top investor in infrastructure, and now is the first destination of English-speaking African students, outperforming the U.S. and the U.K.” (source cited below).

In our 2-part blog post about 7 African nations, we cite a variety of useful sources to demonstrate how varied information sources will add to your country and cultural perspectives. Hopefully, through this post and the next, you will find some new research sites to support your planning. (We love participating in that broader teaching mission as well).

Read on to evaluate some of the strategies that we have found effective for recruiting students from the African continent.

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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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Not Rocket Science

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. 

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The Rise of Student Retention as Key to Recruitment

From your steeped-in-student-recruitment vantage point, you see quite clearly the symbiotic relationship retention has with your recruitment efforts and resulting yield. It has everything to do with your student services, student success, and all the small-batch interactions you do to ensure your students experience both.

As David Hautanen, Vice President for Enrollment Management at St. Mary’s College of Maryland said so well in a recent Recruiting Intelligence post: "Retention is both a moral and economic imperative." We wholeheartedly agree. And it is as true for students as it is for institutions. 

We can dive into all of this with you at #Nafsa2022 in Denver. Let us know if you’ll be there and want to share a cup of coffee.

As campuses across the globe emerge from their pandemic safety bubbles and return to recruitment as usual (more or less), now is a really good time to rethink your institution’s retention efforts—and the student-first mentality it requires.

The bottom line: it’s your team’s soft skills that matter most and their availability to use them. Read on for our take…

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Text Message Marketing for Universities and High Schools

Surveys from Mongoose (a popular SMS provider) tell us that a full 80% of students want to receive text messages from academic institutions. The caveat: they only want messages that matter. No fluff. We get it. We bet you do, too. And, the return on well-executed texts is more than worth the careful content planning effort.

SMS marketing is proving to be a direct, cost-effective way to recruit and retain students. If your institution hasn’t explored SMS marketing, now is the best time to start. It’s a little like the question, “When is the best time to start exercising?” The answer is always, now!

For those of you in the know, Slate added text messaging in early 2020 as one of their marketing features. There’s a reason for that. Important to note that the feature will not allow you to send messages through WhatsApp at this point.

Read on for the answers to Why do it? How to get started? And, what are the best practices for effective execution? The short answer: spot on content drives results.

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2 Ways to Get Gen Z

It is wonderful to see a number of institutions touting strong, even incredible, increases in applications for their fall 2021 enrollment. And then the crowing over the record number of students actually enrolling. These successes are fabulous, for sure.

Yet, NCES data just released, with about 50% of all institutions reporting, shows the broader, less rosy picture. Most institutions saw average enrollment declines of around 3% (or worse) in various student segments.

Those few who are cheering, and the larger number of enrollment managers furrowing their brows, are evaluating all of this in the context of what happened in fall 2020 when so many institutions saw frightening and dramatic declines. Bigger than the enrollment blips that 2020 and 2021 represent is, of course, the enrollment cliff predicted for 2025/2026. How are institutions preparing for the challenges ahead?

We’ve seen an increasing number of institutions re-evaluating the game plan and getting very concerned about whether or not they appeal to Gen Z. It is a valid question. An important question. And here’s the thing: marketing agencies everywhere are making the most of that question in ways that can be highly misleading – the level of exaggeration coming from the marketing world prompts a bit of an eyeroll.

Sure, the decision-making process has differences today, but honestly, it is more the same than it is different. Not saying institutions seeking to attract and enroll students don’t need to adjust. They do.

Note: We recently presented an AIRC-hosted webinar alongside Technion Israel Institute of Technology talking about digital marketing and Gen Z that is now available to subscribers to our Intead Plus library.

Read on for insights on two important avenues for getting Gen Z to think more seriously about your institution. And join us at the AIRC conference in Miami in December 2021, where there will be plenty of talk on this topic.

A key idea: re-evaluate the hoops you make applicants jump through.

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The Data That Informs Us Part 3

Today we ask, “Right, what about international”?

Honestly, don’t even think about skipping this post. Long because: worth it.

With schools now publishing their actual fall 2020 international enrollment numbers, the proof is in the pudding for many.

Recent survey data offered up by Inside Higher Ed tell us fewer institutions are planning to recruit international students this cycle. While they might rightfully point to the market turmoil, travel restrictions and the like, the underlying concern for many, from our point of view, is a lack of confidence in what the institution has to offer.

So, where is the opportunity for international? The good news: student desire springs eternal. Below we consider recent SEVIS data and data on India, Nepal and China that point the way forward.

Speaking of the way forward, ever notice that those who anticipate opportunity and plan for it are in a vastly better position to capitalize? The opposite is also true. Fear of the future and planning for scarcity perpetuate the same.

To put it simply, you can’t harvest crops if you don’t plant seeds.

And yet, this perspective shared by an SIO of an important US public university in one of our recent email exchanges: Public universities always have their speed set to “caution”. When universities deal with a complex or unprecedented situation, they switch gears to “Halt”. If they are scared, they engage the public university turbo, a button that reads “Ignore”.

This scenario gives the proactive the opportunity to take tremendous leaps forward. So few take this opportunity.

The past two posts in this three-part series largely focused on the data that points to opportunities for domestic student enrollment growth and what to do next. Now, in Part 3, we speak to yet another student segment everyone is scratching their heads about.

Coming next week, more discussion about the latest research on Gen Z and their preferences to help reduce the head scratching about domestic student enrollment plans. Stay tuned for that.

Now, Part 3, what can we offer to international students to overcome the obstacles to enrollment?

The reality: managing international enrollment in the near term is going to be an uphill climb, especially if your institution was slow to develop a robust and flexible remote learning pathway for students throughout the spring and summer. Your plans now (seed planting) will set you up for future harvests as international students continue to seek education and adventure. They won’t be stopped, even if they are slowed. Know that we’re just a call away if you want help making those plans data driven and successful.

Note: if you’re still struggling with the faculty and student processes and fostering engagement, read our earlier post on global turnkey campuses for a clear path to flexible opportunities. Take steps to salvage the spring enrollment numbers within the next few weeks. We have a plan and examples from the 8 universities that innovated and are now reaping the benefits.

Read on as we dive into the latest international student data and what it means for your 2021 enrollment marketing strategy and beyond.

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