International Student Recruitment Since 9/11
Part II: It’s a Jungle Out There
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, university recruiters have had to think long and hard about how we spend our time and money to continue recruiting a bright, diverse, international-student population to our campuses. International education departments at public institutions are currently suffering severe budget cuts that have resulted in slashed travel funds and, in the worst cases, layoffs. Still, considering their relatively modest tuition prices, public universities remain an attractive choice for international students and their families.
Those of us at private universities are also tightening our belts, but generally not to the same extent as our public school colleagues. Our challenge is to convince students that the value of smaller class sizes, easier access to professors and opportunities for leadership are worth the extra $10,000-to-$20,000 a year. Given the current state of the global economy, this is no easy task. Even those families that can afford private schools are seriously weighing their options and frequently forgoing the privates’ value-added distinctiveness for the publics’ attractive bottom line.
Regardless of the institution type, all of us in the business of recruiting international students share certain common concerns:
How can we convince international students that they are welcome and, indeed, cherished members of our student bodies? Perceptions currently abound that Americans are increasingly distrustful of foreigners in the wake of Sept. 11. The recent security crackdown — much of it directed at international students — is reinforcing these perceptions. Airport profiling, the recent implementation of the international student tracking system known as SEVIS, the new National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program and inordinate visa delays are an unfortunate reality we all have to contend with now. At a recent NAFSA conference, embassy officials from the Arabian Peninsula reported that enrollments from their countries are down by more than 11 percent since the terrorist attacks. These figures do not include the United Arab Emirates or Qatar. Enrollments from Kuwait and Bahrain are down 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively. More disturbingly, American overseas advisers in India, currently our largest sender of international students, report that Indian interest in U.S. higher education is beginning to wane and that visa refusals are on the rise.
Our British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand counterparts are taking full advantage of these perceptions and redoubling their recruitment efforts around the world. Although the United States still attracts the largest number of international students in the world, our market share has been dwindling since long before Sept. 11, and now, with our relative immigration difficulties, we are facing our worst year yet in “lost ground” to competitor countries.
The Educational Testing Service (ETS) has closed nearly half of its computer-based Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) sites around the world, opting instead to offer paper-based testing in their lower-volume markets. What was once a two- to four-week turnaround for scores is now months, in many cases. This development has effectively added weeks and even months to the application process for many students.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak will certainly affect our enrollments from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The health crisis has forced ETS to suspend test administration of the TOEFL and Graduate Management Admission Test until August. It was rumored at the recent NAFSA conference in Salt Lake City that Chinese authorities have stopped iss uing new passports in an effort to contain SARS.
In addition, other factors that are no less serious — the global economic recession, the rising cost of U.S. higher education, the war in Iraq and continued instability in the Middle East — are all concerns for those of us involved in international educational exchange.
Here at the University of Denver (DU), we are facing a rather meager international student fall enrollment. Thankfully, this will have little effect on our bottom line, due to our robust domestic projections. Nonetheless, for the last five years, we have ranked in the top 25 doctoral-granting universities in the nation for the highest proportion of international students. We take our international diversity very seriously.
So, instead of shrugging our shoulders and waiting it out, DU will take the following steps to shore up our diversity goals:
For the first time, we will actively advertise in three regional editions of a major international higher-education marketing magazine. We will also have a significant Web presence with this company and participate in a virtual university fair.
We will personally visit India, Asia, Latin America and, possibly, the Middle East in the next recruitment season.
Ranking 74th in the nation for the amount of scholarship dollars awarded to undergraduate international students, we will reorganize our already generous merit-based scholarship fund to add more flexibility and to target those most likely to enroll.
Our current communication plan will be overhauled to contact students more frequently, more personally and faster than ever. We will take full advantage of the ease and low cost of Internet communication and will be advising students for the first time ever.
Our print communications will be redesigned to target students’ and parents’ concerns over safety, cost and the quality of education. We will spread our dollars so that we can mail more but spend less. In addition, we are increasing our travel budget approximately 40 percent, and will increase our publications budget approximately 50 percent.
Although we cannot control the time it takes for students to get their visas, we will absolutely affect what we can control on our end: the speed, ease and friendliness of the application process and I-20 issuance.
Being an international educator in the United States has never been for the faint of heart. At every turn, it seems, new challenges and obstacles are placed in our path as we endeavor to attract the best and the brightest from overseas. Political instability, economic crises, wars and the threat of global terrorism have all taken their toll out on the international student market in recent years. Now our own government’s imposition of regulations, registrations, fees and required interviews further threatens to undermine this most cherished and important population.
I am very fortunate to work for a school that responds with patience, support and the all-important resources to duck and weave our way through these trying times.
|University of Denver International Students (Fall 2002, by World Region)|
|Congo, Dem. Rep.||1|
|South and Central Asia||103|
|Latin America||51 (6.68%)|
|Trinidad & Tobago||3|
|Middle East||75 (9.83%)|
|United Arab Emirates||6|
|North America||63 (8.26%)|