States as Study Destinations

Hawaii is sunny and serious. Iowa has four seasons and is more diverse than you think. Recruiting messages for international students reflect states, not institutions.
June 22, 2009

Study in Iowa. Why?

“We’re marketing that we are truly an educational state, that we are a leader in education,” says Ann Gogerty, global recruitment coordinator at Iowa State University and president of the Study Iowa consortium. “We market that we are safe, low-cost, and that we already have a very strong population of international students, particularly at our larger public schools. We of course try to be positive about the weather diversity – in that we have four seasons.”

Whereas for Study Hawaii, a consortium of 20 institutions including K-12 schools, English language programs, community colleges, and four-year universities, the message is not one of four seasons, but of sun – and serious schoolwork. “Hawaii has a positive connotation in most people’s minds, as beautiful, wonderful, a great place, fun in the sun. But this is also adding to the understanding that wow, there are actually serious schools there; you can study while you’re enjoying the beauty,” says Joel Weaver, director of the Hawaii English Language program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. How much to emphasize the “fun in the sun” part? “There’s a difference of opinion among our members on that,” Weaver says. “I think it can be a boon and a curse.”

Taking a page from the tourism industry’s glossy guidebook, a growing number of consortia have taken steps to market their states as higher education destinations in order to attract more international students. “There are many reasons, economic reasons, especially for smaller schools – we’re trying to pool our resources as much as possible to bring students to Wisconsin or to advertise Wisconsin as a study destination,” says Kevin Beisser, assistant director of the English as a Second Language Program at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and co-chair of the 36-member Study Wisconsin. Each state consortium’s work has been a little different, but among their activities, they’ve hosted EducationUSA advisers for tours of selected campuses, disseminated brochures and developed Web sites, and conducted joint recruiting trips. Study Wisconsin for one is hoping to have its first, all-Study Wisconsin fair in Ecuador sometime in 2010.

"Each institution can benefit from more branding of the state," says John Eriksen, associate director of international admission at Bryant University and chair of Study Rhode Island, which just got started about a year ago and now has eight of the state's 11 institutions on board, each having paid a $750 initial membership fee. “Our main goal is to get every single institution participating in this."

Jim Paul, education team leader for the U.S. Commercial Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, says he’s seeing increasing interest in state and regional consortia. "Schools are heading much more towards virtual recruitment. Obviously with budget setbacks within the industry, there are concerns about the appearance of travel.... [There's interest in] just trying to leverage resources for virtual recruitment, in terms of developing a Web site, developing a publication -- and they really do see the benefits for doing so, as well as what the benefits have been for the existing consortia."

The earliest consortia were Study Washington, founded in 1992, and Study Oregon, and others include Study Illinois, Destination Indiana, and the Lone Star Education Coalition in Texas. A new consortium in New Jersey had its first meeting this spring, says Paul, who presented on consortia during May’s NAFSA: Association of International Educators Conference. “Just through the conference, there were a lot of other states that approached me that are very interested as well…. It’s probably too soon to mention [their names] but there’s probably another five or six that are fairly interested.” The U.S. Department of Commerce, meanwhile, has taken the liberty of purchasing domain names for all 50 states and Washington D.C. – Study[YOUR STATE HERE].us, to be transferred over as appropriate.

Paul sees benefits to all that would participate in consortia but, “In general, I would certainly stress that it does benefit more the intensive English programs, community colleges, some schools that aren’t as well known," he says. “The only issue is that it’s pretty nebulous in terms of tracking the results and the return on investment for the school,” he says -- a point on which others agreed, while saying they still feel confident of the benefit.

For many colleges, participation in state-level consortia is viewed as a supplemental activity – “most of us are doing things on top of Study Wisconsin” – says Beisser, of UW Milwaukee. “We figure anything that gets the name Wisconsin out there helps us."

“It’s sort of like advertising. You never really know how much of a difference it’s making but all of the sudden someone will say, ‘Oh, study Iowa, I’ve heard of that,’” says Gogerty, of Iowa State.

"It has to be one of those things you believe in, you have to really love your state and you definitely have to like the people you're working with in the other institutions."

"It's a fine line between competition and camaraderie."


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