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How US HEIs Can Move Forward in International Student Recruitment for Academic Year 2021-22

In the first months of 2021, the US higher education sector continues to work double-time to reverse the impact of the global pandemic and the Trump administration’s policies in enrollment trends, particularly the decline in international students. 


A few weeks ago, I wrote about marketing strategies that US institutions can do to prevent or even overcome declining international enrollment figures. However, surviving the pandemic is going to take more than marketing. Higher education institutions need to implement actual changes in both policies and processes to address pandemic-related challenges.


Although initial reports for the year show an encouraging rebound in terms of international enrollment figures, it is too early to tell if the uptick will continue for the long-term. As such, colleges and universities need to come up with various initiatives to revive the diverse student communities on campuses during the pre-pandemic days. However, different public health mandates in different states seem to point to a less unified approach to recovery. 

Status of Student Recruitment

A survey conducted by Quacquarelli Symonds pored over the sentiments of HEI officials on the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on student recruitment. 


MSM Research: Student Recruitment for Academic Year 2021-22
Source: Quacquarelli Symonds Survey

Some 61% of Higher Education professionals think that the rollout of coronavirus vaccines will make its recruitment of international students easier. This implies that they are optimistic that vaccines will be key to regaining normalcy to enrollment and for the education sector in general.


In general, the optimism of higher education officials is justified as many international students continue to express their interest to study in the United States and are willing to undertake thorough quarantine procedures. With this, institutions should work to sustain connections with prospective students and formulate long-term changes. 


Here are some of the best practices that US schools can implement to maintain the keen interest of international students:

1. Keeping the Students Engaged

Keeping international students in the incoming class engaged must be the top priority for many institutions seeking to maintain enrollment numbers this academic year. Along with defining which activities deferred international students may be able to partake in, the goal should be to create open communication so students remain excited about studying on the campus. Since uncertainty is stretching student timelines, reaching out to students who had expressed interest in the institution in the previous year is important.

2. Innovation and Partnerships

Institutions also must consider innovation and partnerships. According to the NAFSA report, innovation will be key to finding new revenue streams, such as fee-funded programs, micro-courses, and digital badges. Furthermore, the report suggests that institutions will be well-served if they can find ways of delivering their programs to international students outside of the US. This model is already well established in the UK as well as China


MSM just launched a similar program with six founding partner universities: the Hawai’i Pacific University, University of Charleston and Hartwick College in the US; Griffith University in Australia; Frostburg State University, and Queen Margaret University in the UK.

3. Supplementary Support to Students

Supporting international students is crucial and challenging at a time when so much learning is done online, with students sitting at their computers several thousand miles away. 


Institutions need to invest in tools and strategies to support international students who are not on campus. This support includes an expansion of online advising on immigration, academic, and other matters; dynamic student checklists that trigger communications and interventions based on whether or not certain factors are met; and improved access to academic and other campus resources.

4. Acclimatizing to a New Competitive Mindset

With the pandemic’s effect, which has removed many obstacles such as standardized tests, international students will be looking at factors other than rankings to decide which school they will choose. 


Students have many more options in an online environment in terms of the education they will pay for, including many more low-cost options in their home countries. For that reason, students place increased priority on practical, career-oriented education and training. 

As such, academic institutions need to develop solutions that offer these students practical work experiences and these may include the development of internship programs with international alumni, partnering with for-profit and nonprofit organizations that specialize in the delivery of experiential learning, and greater engagement with companies. 


5. Intensifying Advocacy

Overall, US educators have to step up in terms of advocating against immigration restrictions that block international students from coming to the US. As COVID-19 reveals the need for international research collaborations, intercultural education, and an understanding of global issues and trends, the US needs to be more open in more ways than one. 

In general, looking at the data, we can infer that the situation now is so different which is why US schools’ and universities’ ability to recruit international students has been greatly challenged. 

This difficulty calls for more innovative approaches. Despite the current crisis, however, there is no doubt that we will see some new and innovative ways that institutions will pivot and create new opportunities to attract international students. (DR. ALEX PARNIA)

#PartnerForLife #HigherEducation #StudentRecruitment #InternationalEducation #MSM

MSM Research_President, MSM USA

President, MSM USA

Dr. Alex Parnia brings more than 35 years of experience performing a variety of successful roles at various academic institutions as a faculty member, campus Dean, Vice-President of Marketing and Enrollment, Executive Vice- President, Provost, and President. He specializes in crafting innovative and scalable solutions and matrices to enable exponential revenue increases for academic institutions. His list of commendable triumphs is never-ending and he has also created leadership programs and taught management and business courses at various academic institutions.

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China now the leading host for international branch campuses. (2016, November 22). Retrieved February 02, 2021, from https://monitor.icef.com/2016/11/china-now-leading-host-international-branch-campuses/

Hope for the Future: How Universities are Identifying Emerging Opportunities in 2021. (2021, January 08). Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/how-universities-are-identifying-emerging-opportunities-in-2021/

Toner, M. (2020, August 04). Beyond the Numbers: Recruitment Strategies for a Changing World. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://www.nafsa.org/ie-magazine/2020/8/4/beyond-numbers-recruitment-strategies-changing-world

UK government signals an increasing emphasis on transnational education. (2020, July 01). Retrieved February 02, 2021, from https://monitor.icef.com/2017/03/uk-government signals-increasing-emphasis-transnational-education/

Weigu. (n.d.). Forecasting 2021 International Student Recruitment for Schools and Study Abroad Programs. Retrieved February 02, 2021, from https://www.cambridgenetwork.com/blog/school-blog/forecasting-2021-international-student-recruitment-for-schools-and-study-abroad-programs/



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