By Peter Cunningham

It speaks volumes about the importance of international student recruitment in the US that 10,000 people will gather in Philadelphia next month to talk about foreign students.

Along with my colleague Andy Marriott, I’ll be at the annual conference of NAFSA: Association of International Educators runs from May 27 to June 1 in the City of Brotherly Love to keep abreast of all that’s new in student recruitment strategy.

Philadelphia a fitting venue for a conference with the theme of “Diverse voices, shared commitment” attended by educators, education administrators and university recruiters from around the globe.

The theme of NAFSA 2018 underlines an important message that universities in the United States are trying to get out in their student recruitment marketing messages. As I pointed out in this blog, there’s a fear factor that might be holding back students from the rest of the world from enrolling in US colleges and universities. 

For 70 years, NAFSA has been all about breaking down barriers, not putting them up. While there are legitimate business reasons for universities looking to open up new markets, NAFSA is far more altruistic than that. It’s a central part of US colleges’ worldview that the Earth is there to be educated.

Advance international education

NAFSA’s mission is to advance international education and exchange and develop the global workforce. The association believes, and I’ve got to agree with them, that learning in a different country does more than benefit the student. It fosters better understanding of other people and cultures, which will lead to a more peaceful world.

This year’s theme is about listening to others’ voices, a message that’s important in these times of megaphone diplomacy. And the conference aims to build a consensus backing diversity, and tackling the challenges facing modern society.

International students may justifiably feel wary about coming to the US, given the current political and cultural situation. The colleges, for ethical and financial reasons, do not want to see that flow of the world’s greatest thinkers to the Land of the Free stop.

That said, it can’t be denied that a successful international student recruitment strategy is great for the US economy. Those foreign students bring money and skills into the country, and their tuition fees boost the coffers of colleges. Without that investment, budgets would be tighter and courses could be cut back or done away with.

What the colleges have to offer, particularly in terms of STEM skills, gives them great appeal in the international student market. And although many graduates return home to improve their own countries, others who earn their degree in the US find employment there and stay on, helping the economy grow.

Greater student movement

NAFSA, for its part, wants to see greater international student movement, with international perspectives integrated into universities’ teaching and research. Thousands who share that philosophy will gather in Philadelphia.

The seminars and keynote speakers will make the headlines, but it’s the chance to network with industry experts that we value. NAFSA offers a real chance to keep up to date by talking to people and institutions about the trends developing in the marketplace. For example, what we learn from the Germans, may help us with a student recruitment campaign elsewhere.

It’s also a chance for us to pass on what we know about the industry, from advising about best practice and our digital marketing strategy to how we understand the full cycle of the recruitment process, from generating the inquiry to enrolment.

After missing out last year – we were stranded at Heathrow by the BA computer outage and missed the whole event – we’re looking forward to hitting the ground running this year. If you’re going along and would like to reach out, you can contact me here.

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