January 25, 2022, by Don Hossler Philip Kotler, considered by many higher education professionals to be the Godfather of modern university admissions marketing, urged professionals in the field to consider the 4P’s when putting together a recruitment marketing plan. The 4P’s stand for:
However, when developing admissions marketing plans for international students, I always keep in mind the 4P’s, plus one R, and the word “courtship”.
The R stands for risk reduction. Any effort to create a targeted marketing plan for international students also has to consider the risks that students, and often their families, evaluate when they are contemplating attending a university in another country. This is true for both prospective undergraduate and graduate students. For me, the word courtship is an important consideration because we are courting these new students. And we must always keep in mind that courting a new partner from another culture, who may speak another language, adds a level of complexity to the process. Although, these are considerations for both undergraduate and graduate students some of the factors that go into the decision-making process are sufficiently different that I will focus only on undergraduates.
The 4P’s are also relevant for undergraduate international students. The majors, academic programs, and the out-of-class experience are an essential part of the product that any university offers. College rankings are important in the United States and even more important to students from other countries. Whether we like it or not, our ranking is part of our product. And an institution’s ranking is also an important part of risk reduction for international students. The place is another factor that gets careful consideration. How far is my institution from the home of this international student? For decades, universities located in metropolitan areas were more attractive to many international undergraduate students. The idea of being in a large city with many cultural opportunities was attractive. However, with growing concerns about personal safety, some students and their families may prefer being located in a small town where crime rates are lower, and personal safety is not as great a concern. It is axiomatic that price, the total cost of attendance, including travel, will always be an essential consideration for international students and their families. Finally, promotion and courtship are similar constructs for admissions recruiting.
The risks that potential international undergraduate students face include being a long distance from home, cultural similarities or dissimilarities, concerns about safety, uncertainty about whether or not their degree and the institution that they attended will be valued in their home country, and concerns about their ability to get relevant work experience before returning to their country of origin. Enrollment management professionals, admissions leaders, faculty members, and student life professionals should always be cognizant of these risk factors for potential international students. For example, the language barriers for students arriving from European countries will not be as pronounced as for a student coming from Thailand. Because English has become the lingua franca of business, many European countries offer or, in some cases, require programs in English. In addition, there will be more cultural similarities for these students in comparison to an undergraduate coming to the United States from Senegal.
Enrollment professionals understand that promotion – admissions marketing – plays a vital role in students’ decisions as to where to matriculate. However, I have always found it helpful if I have a broader metaphor to use as I consider new and existing admissions marketing and recruitment approaches. To that end, I have always found courtship to be an evocative metaphor for my thinking. If I was indeed courting the person whom I hoped would become my life partner, or even someone with whom I’m trying to develop a really good friendship, thinking about my actions as forms of courtship helps to broaden my thinking, to think beyond the traditional approaches to admissions marketing and recruitment and to evaluate new strategies. How might a prospective cosmopolitan female student who speaks Mandarin or Hindi respond differently than domestic female students to the various steps in the admissions and recruitment process? For institutions that might use financial aid to recruit prospective international undergraduates, admissions and financial aid professionals need to be aware that these students might have no understanding of campus-based financial aid at the start of the recruitment process
Within this framework, when recruiting international undergraduates, colleges and universities must do comprehensive self-assessments of their market positions. Enrollment leaders need to know where they stand in relation to their products, including rankings, competitor universities, or specific academic programs. For example, not all colleges have high quality undergraduate performance-oriented music programs. Enrollment professionals must have a clear-eyed understanding of the extent to which the university’s location is attractive to prospective international students. Senior campus administrators, faculty, admissions marketing staff, and enrollment management leaders should realize that they have limited ability in the short run to change the academic programs (products) they offer or to alter their location(s). It often takes a decade or more for a university to substantially improve its position in ranking schemes. The attractiveness of a location is likely to be a function of distance from home, similarity of cultures, and personal safety. In the short term, institutional net pricing (which is the cost of attendance minus any institutional financial aid), promotion, and actions aimed at risk reduction are the only policy and programmatic levers that enrollment managers can employ.
Promotion and related risk reduction strategies need to be based on an understanding of where the university stands in the higher education marketplace in the United States. Understanding the cultural milieu from which students are being recruited is also essential knowledge for admissions professionals. This understanding can help them to develop effective messaging around the attractiveness of where the university is located, and the degree of safety for international undergraduates. More importantly, this knowledge can help admissions staff to identify the cultural norms associated with “courting” someone from that part of the globe.
It is also essential for universities to collect information on the competitor universities that their targeted international students apply to, and where they enroll. This knowledge is essential for developing more effective recruitment/promotion strategies. A competitor analysis also enables universities to make comparisons of the net price of attendance. These competitor analyses must be rooted in data. Promotional and recruitment tactics are unlikely to be successful if enrollment leaders have identified aspirational competitors as opposed to those institutions with whom they most often compete directly for international undergraduates.
Alongside the most highly ranked universities, or programs, in the United States, enrollment leaders are likely to discover that they have other competitors in different international markets. Thus, the enrollment modeling will need to be sensitive to the possibility of varying net price strategies depending upon the region of the world from which a university is trying to attract more international students. Finally, universities, and their specific academic programs, need to know that persistence is required. If your university is not a household name in a particular region of the country where you are recruiting, it will take time to develop a steady stream of applicants. This is another example why a thorough competitive analysis is necessary. Without this, universities may spend a great deal of time and money with unrealistic hopes of enrolling more international undergraduate students.
At the bottom line, colleges and universities attempting to enroll more international students must keep in mind the 4P’s, but to see them through the lenses of risk reduction and of recruitment as a form of courtship.
Donald Hossler a member of the Edu Alliance Group Advisory Council is an emeritus professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University Bloomington (IUB). He currently serves as a Senior Scholar at the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice in the Rossier School of Education, at the University of Southern California. Hossler has also served as vice chancellor for student enrollment services, executive associate dean of the School of Education, and the executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Hossler’s areas of specialization include college choice, student persistence, student financial aid policy, and enrollment management. Hossler has received career achievement awards for his research, scholarship, and service from the American College Personnel Association, the Association for Institutional Research, the College Board, and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. He recently received the Sonneborn Award for Outstanding Research and Teaching from IUB and was named a Provost Professor.
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