March 2012 issue

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Market report USA

Social media, virtual fairs and Google advertisements are just some of the methods higher education providers in the US are using to attract varied audiences. Jane Vernon Smith finds out more.

Each year, United States universities attract high numbers of international students onto their undergraduate and graduate programmes. While international recruitment efforts have been maintained, enrolment numbers have experienced varying fortunes over the past year, in the face of visa difficulties and continued global economic recession.

At Concordia College in New York, NY, “Undoubtedly, the most common difficulty for students is obtaining an F-1 visa. In fact, approximately 50 per cent of our admitted international students are not able to get their visa,” comments spokesperson, Allison Esposito. She adds, “We have lost many students to the visa process having qualifications equal to, or even greater than, those students who were successful.”

International enrolment at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, IA, has reflected this experience. Recruitment to the computer science MS programme was affected by a decrease in numbers from Nepal and Ethiopia, as a result of a lack of F-1 visa approvals, notes course Administrative Director, Elaine Guthrie, who laments, “We still have the applicants, but they can’t get visas.” The problem is not confined to these markets. “There are many countries where the applicants don’t even apply anymore,” she adds – Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Cambodia being examples – “since their friends and seniors were not able to get visas.”

On the positive side, Esposito reports that the flow of Chinese students is strong, thanks in part to a more open student exchange policy on the part of the Chinese government. Meanwhile, enrolments of Chinese, Egyptian and Jordanian students onto Maharishi’s computer science MS programme have increased, with China, Egypt and Nepal representing the leading nationalities on a programme on which internationals constitute around 90 per cent of total enrolments, according to Guthrie. In response to the visa problems it has been experiencing, she comments that the university has tried to diversify the countries from which it recruits, and find ones that don’t have visa issues.

The University of Findlay in Findlay, OH, is representative among those canvassed for this article in identifying Chinese, Indian and Saudi Arabian as its top nationalities in 2011. However, while China continues to do well, according to Director of International Admissions and Services, Penny Gerdeman, India “has dropped off significantly”, although she links this to an increase in the university’s MBA programme fees. By contrast, another educator highlights an agreement between the US and India for the issuance of more students’ visas as having led to increased numbers from India.

At Georgetown College in Georgetown, KY, where the leading nationalities in 2011 were Saudi, Venezuelan and Chilean, a growth in Saudi numbers was attributable to the arrival of its first students via the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) initiative, according to Director of International Programs, Emily Brandon. Meanwhile, Venezuelan numbers were boosted by student word-of-mouth, as well as an outbound recruitment trip.

As seen above, individual programmes can be influential in international recruitment terms. This is clearly in evidence at Georgetown College, where the launch of a new intensive English programme has resulted in a doubling of international student numbers, according to Brandon. Previously, the college simply offered tutoring support to international undergraduates.

At Dowling College in Oakdale, NY, Director of International Student Recruitment and Scholar Services, Ann-Margaret Nastasi, notes that business programmes have always done well in attracting international students. “We have an exceptional MBA programme, which is very popular in every country [from] which I recruit,” she relates, while a new MS in Environmental Microbiology “is starting to build a strong following”.

For Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, the relatively new communications studies course is seeing growth. However, it is finance and management programmes that currently register the greatest demand by international students. “The college’s nearby location to such corporate headquarters as MasterCard, Pepsico, IBM, Atlas Air and many more, provides an excellent opportunity for internships, which international students overwhelmingly understand the value of, in terms of qualifying them for employment after graduation,” notes Managing Director, J.J. Pryor. Internships are also seen as a valuable attraction at Concordia College, where Esposito reports that most international students want to study business administration, accounting or international management. Here, the Business Department “is strengthening [its] effort to provide meaningful work-place internships in the New York City area”.

Route to recruit

In terms of recruitment, institutions have been proactively combining a variety of approaches, ranging from the general to the finely targeted. Penny Gerdeman at the University of Findlay in Findlay, OH, says they are recruiting aggressively abroad, and currently make use of “publications, advertising, websites, country fairs, seminars [and] agents”. Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, IA, meanwhile, employs a variety of web-based methods, including social media: Google advertisements and mailings, in tandem with agents/representatives in key markets, notes the university’s Elaine Guthrie.

The Internet is strategic to recruitment at Dowling College in Oakdale, NY, where virtual fairs are favoured. “They have a greater reach and are cost-effective,” notes the college’s Ann-Margaret Nastasi.

In the case of Concordia College in New York, NY, it is not just a question of building numbers, stresses spokesperson, Allison Esposito, but of finding “the right ‘fit’ between prospective students and our institution”. The college is developing a relationship with a consortium in Turkey, made up of 22 high schools, and is working with a major IB programme coordinator in Germany.

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