International Student Recruitment & the Lingering Effects of COVID-19

Written By:
Ted Magdzinski
Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Prior to my work at Underscore, I spent my entire career in admissions for two different institutions, both highly engaged in international student recruitment. They spent years building up strong recruitment processes, with highly-trained admission staff, extensive travel, and an investment in building relationships with overseas schools and counselors. I cannot imagine what those staff members are going through right now.

With COVID-19 creating an atmosphere of uncertainty for schools planning to open up in just a few short weeks, that feeling is exacerbated for students abroad intending to enroll here in the fall. While the Trump administration has backed off plans to ban all international students from staying in the U.S. if classes are fully online, the most recent ruling has the government preventing new international students from attending if the same situation applies.

This decision has the potential to be devastating to institutions that heavily invest in international students. Foreign students often pay full tuition, and they bring an estimated $41 billion per year to our nation’s institutions, at a time when they desperately need it. Nobody knows just how bad the impact of COVID-19 will be on our schools for the next year, but the long-term effects could be even worse.

So how do we recruit internationally this fall? What would that even look like without being disingenuous to the students we ask to come here? We work with a number of schools that recruit internationally, some of which are well-seasoned with veteran staffs and others are just starting to dip their toes into heavily investing in the overseas market. While most are still focused on just getting their current Fall 2020 class on-campus (virtually or literally) in the next couple months, we’ve started to have conversations with them about plans for the upcoming cycle and how we best can support them when so much about international recruitment is up in the air.

Look beyond the next cycle

Just as we are seeing junior search in the spring yield better and better results long-term –oftentimes outperforming senior search in the fall – schools should prioritize underclassmen recruitment of international students when possible.With resources severely limited in the upcoming cycle, we can anticipate that building those relationships now for long-term gain may alleviate some of the challenges we face when the pandemic has passed.

If your school can adjust its budget, offering gap years for international students set to enroll this fall could provide some breathing room.

Serve as a resource

While this upcoming fall looks to be difficult logistically for schools across the country, students either hoping to start attending this fall or return are likely just as panicked and unsure of the situation as we are. Providing regular updates, extensive assistance with visas and additional accommodations for international students could ease some concerns and help guide students throughout a hard year. Serve as a beacon during the storm and we will all be more prepared for future crisis going forward, while showing your international students and those in the pipeline that you do care for their well-being.

Strengthen online coursework

Whether schools can offer enough in-person coursework safely to provide international students an opportunity to stay in the U.S. remains to be seen. But one positive that has come out of this situation is the speed and efficiency in which many schools have pivoted to offer a much more robust online education platform. Not only does that allow for less disruption in cases such as this, but it does offer more access and opportunity for students to attend, potentially at a reduced cost. Giving international students a reason to enroll even if they can’t physically attend just yet should remain a goal while we get through this pandemic.

This year has been unprecedented in higher education; with a number of long-term and potentially permanent changes occurring that will change the higher education landscape for years. In the midst of this, the effect it has having on the international students we value at our universities cannot be understated.

For more information on how Underscore can help you with your 2020 goals and beyond, email us at info@underscorehighered.com.

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About the Author

The tech-head. Once the strategy and messaging for an institution is done, we hand it over to Ted. And he configures things. Migrates stuff. Queries data. Enhances UX. Basically, all the complicated stuff that colleges and universities need to communicate with today's digital natives. A consummate higher-ed professional, Ted has spent a decade recruiting and retaining prospective students for colleges all over the country.


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