December 6, 2018
The impact of the UK’s Brexit vote and the results of the 2016 elections in the US have already negatively impacted international applications to many colleges and universities in both countries.
Rather than wait until final enrollment numbers are reported in the fall, schools with strategic international recruitment plans should begin now to review and change the way they have recruited international students in the past.
This article will focus on how a refreshed communication plan can assist colleges and universities to better recruit international students for the upcoming academic year.
My suggestions are based on the following:
Most colleges and universities have a traditional communication plan, a funnel, which is more of a marketing tool, not a tool for understanding market behavior.
Data analytics has the ability to create evidence-based international communication strategies by providing college international admission deans and recruiters with speedy, actionable information. Predictive analytics has the ability to inform if and when a brand message is working. What was the application prompt? At what point in the application process did it occur? There is no need to guess or wait until the end of the recruitment year to find the answers to these questions. Big data can inform international recruiters and the communication staff of the needs and expectations of the applicant pool in each step of the choice process.
Few colleges and universities have a separate communication plan for parents from preapplication to postenrollment. The focus is on the applicant. I believe the entire family should be recruited (and re-recruited after acceptance.) For many applicants, their parents have the final say in where they enroll. Why not engage parents as one way of creating a meaningful differentiation from your competitors?
The admission staff works in a sales office. Once an application is received and an applicant has been accepted, their job is over. Heresy? I don’t think so. The team responsible for closing the deal, in my opinion, resides in the offices of the academic deans, progression and retention staff, student services staff, and career counselors. Frequent communication from these offices to both applicants and parents can have the effect of distinguishing your school from your competitors. More importantly, the information from these administrators can reinforce your brand and value proposition.
Strategic plans written now are only valuable if they are assessed frequently for effectiveness and, if necessary, for change. Real-time analysis allows for the realignment of staff and resources based on what your market is telling you now. But it is essential that the information be divided into chunks to make it actionable, not overwhelming.
What made you apply, and when did you make the decision to apply? What was the trigger point?
What made you accept the admission offer? What was the most important factor?
What made you enroll, and when did you make the final decision? What was the most important factor in your decision?
Why and when did you decide not to apply?
What was the most important factor in your decision to enroll in another school?
Use the answers to these questions to create a data-driven communication plan.
Because so much information about colleges and universities can be found online by prospective students, I am recommending a communication plan that focuses on outcomes, not features, and that begins with the end: successful admission, enrollment, progression, and graduation.
Flexibility will be the currency for future international communication plans, allowing strategic international planners to implement the changes necessary to engage and manage expectations of future applicants and their families.