3 steps colleges can take right now to boost international student enrollment

Emily Arnim, Staff WriterEmily Arnim, Staff Writer

International students are valuable to supporting revenue growth for colleges and universities and increasing diversity on campus—but these students aren't attending U.S. colleges at the rates they used to. International enrollment rates have fallen by as much as 30% to 50% at some institutions, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Why? In part, international students are worried about the tumultuous political climate and whether Americans will welcome them.

A 2017 EAB Enrollment Services survey of 2,104 international students representing 150 countries suggests students are becoming less and less interested in attending college in the United States. EAB Enrollment Services drew from a pool of 28,000 high school students who had previously shown interest in studying in the United States and who would be part of the 2017 and 2018 incoming classes.

One-third of the respondents indicated that their interest in studying in the United States fell because of the current political climate—with the top three concerns being the presidential administration (69%), travel restrictions (55%), and personal safety (52%).

Prospective students from Muslim majority countries showed the most concern about studying in the United States. But even students from India (who together with those from China make up nearly half of the international student population here) said they worry about changes to existing visa programs that allow them to stay and work in the country after graduation.

Learn more: The shaky future of international recruiting in China

With such complex political factors at work, the average campus leader might feel like international student enrollment is out of her control. But the good news is that there are a few simple things schools can change to help international students feel more confident about coming to your campus. I reached out to the experts at EAB Enrollment Services and learned three strategies to share with you:

1: Communicate more frequently with prospective international students

Frequent communication helps ease students' worries. Let students know you'll keep them up to date "about the situation as it exists today," writes EAB Enrollment Services' head of research, Pam Kiecker Royall.

Regular email nudges can also keep international students on track to complete their application materials correctly and on time. Email is better than paper mail, as many international prospects won't receive paper mail and rely on electronic correspondence and college websites for information.

Keep reading: Communicate your commitment to international students

When Wayne State University ramped up its communication, the strategy helped them boost the yield rate for international students from 25% to 37% in one year.

"We just have to continue to increase our outreach and engagement with prospective and admitted students," explains Ahmad M. Ezzeddine, associate vice president for educational outreach and international programs at the university. "We cannot rest, and we have to continue to talk about the value of U.S. education and what we can provide students. And tell them they are welcome here."

2: Give your website a facelift

According to EAB Enrollment Services' survey, 83% of prospective international students receive the bulk of their information from college websites.

Boston University (BU) boasts one of the highest percentages of undergraduate international students in the United States. They revamped their website to proactively address issues of concern, like comprehensive visa information for both students and their families, fast facts about the way of life in Boston, and what to expect after graduation. BU even includes regularly updated information on DACA and executive orders related to travel on their site.

3: Assure international students that they are welcome

Most importantly, in all of your communications with prospective international students, "affirm and articulate [your] mission to cultivate a diverse and inclusive community," Royall recommends. Though 73% of students surveyed still believe the United States welcomes global diversity at its colleges and universities, it's important to speak to the 27% who don’t.

For example, when the University of Denver promoted inclusive messages and pledges of on-campus support, they saw an unprecedented increase in both applications and deposits from international students.

The states that host the most international students

EAB Enrollment experts also recommend sharing "testimonials from current international students and strong affirmative messages from campus leaders that will assure international students they will thrive in the United States."

Last year, Temple University did just that by adapting Eastern Michigan University's #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign for their students. Leaders at Eastern Michigan originally wanted to show support for international students on campus, but the campaign evolved into a national effort to recruit prospective students.

"The reason this struck me as an important message is that it's simple and it’s positive and it’s kind of a countervailing message to a lot of the other negative images and messages that are out there," explains Jessica Sandberg, campaign leader and director of international admissions at Temple (EAB report, accessed 4/6; EAB blog, 9/8/17; EAB Enrollment Services, EAB, 3/20/17; Teske, EAB, 2/27; Redden, Inside Higher Ed, 9/5/17; Redden, Inside Higher Ed, 8/18/17).

Related: What international students want out of higher ed

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