Keeping the “human element” in international student recruitment is more important than ever, said US educators and university marketing specialists in a recent PIE webinar on how to continue engaging and converting potential students in the Covid-19 era – which means budget cuts too.
With 71% of webinar attendees saying their institution had not yet begun to map out autumn 2020 international recruitment travel, and many recruitment and marketing departments facing budgets cuts, international recruiters are taking the opportunity to improve their online and social media presence and find new ways to generate leads.
“We’ve always done a lot of armchair recruitment to utilise out resources as much as possible, so we’ve used things like Unibuddy student ambassadors, Whatsapp business, WeChat, things which I think students prefer over email,” noted Amanda Stevens, manager of international recruitment at SUNY New Paltz.
“I think especially right now we are seeing how effective armchair recruitment can be.”
Speakers particularly highlighted the value of using students and alumni to help with recruiting.
“Students are worried about going to college or university at any time… Then you throw a pandemic into the situation”
“Students are worried about going to college or university at any time,” said Lou Greenwald, head of business development (Americas) at Unibuddy, which runs a platform to link current and potential students and currently has 300 partners in 30 countries.
“Then you throw a pandemic into the situation and there’s really a need to connect.”
Chad Schempp, senior director of recruitment, business development and international programs at San Diego State University, added that it was easier to address issues with potential students over things like visas face-to-face, with current students connecting with leads over Zoom to provide “a personal contact and touch point”.
“No matter what we say, we’re working for a university and it’s a sales job,” added Schempp.
“I’ll put up a picture of our beautiful library, [students will] put up a picture of them and their friends at Taco Tuesday. Guess which one gets more traction”
“When a student starts talking it’s a shared experience. I’ll put up a picture of our beautiful library, they’ll put up a picture of them and their friends at Taco Tuesday. Guess which one gets more traction.”
Without the option of travelling to recruitment fairs, Schempp said universities have been looking at other ways to recruit students. SDS was able to recruit new students from Italy through Google Paid Searches, despite this not being a place he would usually do recruitment events in person.
Finding workarounds to continue attending events is also important. One option could be using in-country alumni represent institutions if staff cannot travel.
Universities across the US have taken different approaches to trying to stay attractive to international students, although they admit that international students “don’t really want to take online courses” and high numbers are deferring or withdrawing due to not being able to obtain visas.
Some institutions have launched summer classes to keep students engaged while others are cutting tuition for the next academic year.