PHILADELPHIA -- Nearly a third (32 percent) of respondents to a survey on international enrollment management reported that their institutions spend less than $10,000 per year on international recruitment travel.
Furthermore, 11 percent of respondents said their institution has no international enrollment management plan and is not working on one, while 27 percent said they have no plan but that one is in progress.
Of those respondents who said their institutions did have an international enrollment management plan, 29 percent said there was a department-level plan, 18 percent said there was a campus-level plan, and 11 percent said there was a system-level plan.
A total of 293 respondents completed the survey, which was conducted by an international enrollment management-focused subgroup within NAFSA: Association of International Educators and released during NAFSA’s annual conference last week.
The survey was distributed via an open hyperlink shared on social media platforms and email lists. The developers of the survey cautioned that it is not intended to be read as a scientific study, but instead to collect voices from the field.
Most respondents were entry- or midlevel managers working in international enrollment management, while fewer than 10 percent identified themselves as holding senior positions. Ninety-five percent of respondents indicated they work for a U.S. institution.
Eighty-one percent of respondents indicated they worked for a college or university, while the remainder worked for independent English-language institutes (8 percent), high schools (4 percent) and other for-profit (4 percent) or not-for-profit (2 percent) entities.
When asked to select all the options that applied relative to their primary affiliations as international enrollment management professionals, 49 percent of respondents chose intensive English and pathway programs; 43 percent recruitment and marketing; 35 percent admissions, placement and credential evaluation; 35 percent the advising and counseling of international students for study in the U.S.; and 11 percent chose other.
One of the members of the committee involved with creating the survey, David L. DiMaria, said he was “shocked” by the substantial percentage of respondents who indicated their institutions are spending less than $10,000 annually on international student recruiting, and also by the large percentage of respondents who said their institution doesn’t have an international enrollment management strategy. Those institutions, he suggested, are not well equipped during a time of declining international enrollments nationally.
“There are schools that maybe didn’t have a strategy or were not actively recruiting … and all of the sudden the enrollments started to rise because of external factors,” said DiMaria, the associate vice provost for international education at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “And now the enrollment is starting to drop because of external factors. When enrollment was on the rise, everyone felt good about themselves … The senior administrators are all happy. They’re seeing the money coming in and they’re aligning it with their base budgeting thinking it’s going to continue.”
“The external factors can give, but they can also take away,” DiMaria continued. “That’s where we are now. If you don’t have a strategy for growth, then you don’t have a strategy to maintain it.”
“For those that are not investing, are not strategically planning, I think these are going to be rocky times.”
Asked about their top challenge in their current positions, 22 percent of respondents to the survey said it’s meeting their enrollment goals. Sixteen percent cited issues related to university leadership, and 12 percent said the “political climate” was their main challenge. Other challenges cited by respondents related to staffing (10 percent), budget (8 percent) and student services (5 percent). The percentage of respondents whose responses fell into the “other” category for this question was particularly high, at 26 percent.
Asked about their concerns for the field of international enrollment management as a whole, more than half (52 percent) of respondents cited “political climate” as their top concern. Other top concerns were “declining enrollment” (9 percent), “competition” (7 percent), “safety” (5 percent), “diversity” (4 percent), “cost” (4 percent) and “disruption” (3 percent). Sixteen percent of responses fell into the “other” category.
Unpacking those responses somewhat, DiMaria said the comments about political climate did not just refer to the national political climate; respondents in some cases mentioned specific state governors. Some of the open-ended comments referred to commoditization, or “academic capitalism”: “One respondent said the field is losing its soul, because it’s become very commercial,” DiMaria said.
Within the category of “disruptions,” DiMaria said that pathway programs “are being seen almost as vacuums taking away from traditional intensive English program enrollments” (which, according to new research from the Institute of International Education, declined by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017, following an 18.7 percent drop the year before that).
Nine percent of respondents said their institutions have a relationship with a third-party pathway provider, a company that contracts with universities to recruit for and help deliver a first-year academic program that typically includes both intensive English and credit-bearing academic course work. Another 9 percent said they partner with a third-party intensive English provider.
More than half (51 percent) of respondents said their institutions partner with recruitment agencies, a percentage that’s higher than in some other surveys, perhaps due to the high proportion of individuals affiliated with English language and pathway programs in the new survey. Thirty-one percent said their institutions retain individual consultants and 24 percent said they use marketing companies.
The survey also asked questions about organizational structures and which units are responsible for undergraduate and graduate student recruitment.
At the undergraduate level, 42 percent of respondents said the central admissions office bears primary international recruiting responsibility, while 37 percent said the central international education office and 13 percent cited a separate international admissions office.
At the graduate level, 49 percent said the central admissions office is primarily responsible for recruiting international students, 20 percent said the central admissions office and 15 percent said faculty.
As for which offices are responsible for international student admissions decisions, 57 percent of respondents said the central admissions office does that at the undergraduate level, while 22 percent said the international education office and 16 percent the international admission office. At the graduate level, 62 percent said the central admissions office makes the admissions decisions for international students and 27 percent said faculty.
Respondents also answered questions about who evaluates international credentials at their institutions. At the undergraduate level, 76 percent said staff do this, while 23 percent use a third-party credential evaluation company; 2 percent said faculty do this. At the graduate level, the percentage of respondents who said faculty are responsible for evaluating international applicants’ credentials at their institutions rose to 15 percent.
The survey also asked respondents about their primary motivation for recruiting international students to their institutions. Thirty-eight percent said “generate revenue,” followed closely by 37 percent who said “increase diversity.” Thirteen percent said “improve academic quality” and 12 percent said “enhance international reputation.”