Want to grow your international online market? Answer three questions first.

As domestic enrollments stagnate or decline in many COE units, institutions are looking abroad for new online student audiences.

Finding and recruiting online international students requires extensive on-ground networks and close alignment to local economic and student needs. In addition, the potential market is much smaller than commonly thought, which further complicates international online expansion.

International students have more options to study at local institutions, securing recognized degrees on accessible campuses. Physical access is particularly attractive if students have limited internet access, whether through unreliable technology or governmental restrictions. If students are able to secure a visa and travel to U.S. campuses, they typically prefer the experience of attending school abroad and then must complete the vast majority of their coursework in person to retain their visas. Students who cannot travel to the U.S. then again often prefer locally based institutions.

Nontraditional audiences often smaller than they first appear

To expand or strengthen your current international online offerings in the face of these challenges, consider the following three questions.

1. Can our programs meet local labor market needs?

The combination of developing education markets abroad and increased American interest in online international students has created high competition for those students’ enrollments. English language offerings or American-branded programs usually fail to stand out in this crowded market. Instead, successful programs meet three main criteria:

  • Audience available in the market matches the program’s target population (e.g., adult graduate students)
  • Program addresses a local labor market shortage (e.g., niche engineering degrees)
  • Program offers distinguishing characteristics such as strong institutional reputation, practitioner-instructors, etc.

2. Do we have access to an on-ground network in the target country?

Without on-ground networks, American institutions often struggle to attract prospective international students solely through digital recruitment. On-ground networks ensure institutions achieve local familiarity and legitimacy, plus in some cases even provide a supportive community for online students despite their distance from the institution. Universities’ potential on-ground networks include:

  • Arrangements with local partner universities
  • Affiliations with religious organizations
  • Partnerships with U.S. military establishments

3. Can prospective students easily access our educational content?

When identifying potential international audiences, seek countries that meet the following criteria:

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