January/February 2002 // Commentary
Harnessing the Power of the Internet for International Student Recruitment
by Cheryl Darrup-Boychuck
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Cheryl Darrup-Boychuck "Harnessing the Power of the Internet for International Student Recruitment" The Technology Source, January/February 2002. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

In mid-November, the Open Doors report of the Institute of International p://www.opendoorsweb.org/">2001) found that a record total of 547,867 international students enrolled at U.S. campuses during academic year 2000/01. The Institute also noted that higher education is one of this country's leading exports (bringing over $11 billion to the economy), and that the number of international students increased by more than 6% this past academic year—the largest increase since 1980.

IIE supplemented its research with an online survey from October (2001). Of the nearly 600 international education professionals responding to the survey, 97% said that international education exchange was regarded as more important or equally as important on their campuses in the aftermath of September 11. Upon their release, the president of IIE commented on the findings:

"The increase in educational exchange is very good news for our nation, as it shows that the next generation of leaders will have a greater understanding of the world around us," said Allan E. Goodman, IIE's president and CEO. "Even more heartening is the enthusiasm and interest among students in gaining international experience after the terrorist attacks of September 11. This is a time when our world needs more international exchange, not less. The lasting ties that international students make while studying here and American students make while studying abroad are important to our country in times of conflict as well as in times of peace. The terrorists wish to make us close our minds, our borders, and our markets to the rest of the world, and we must make sure they do not succeed" (Institute of International Education, 2001, para. 4-5).

But how? How do we continue to increase international student enrollments while operating in an environment where we are expected to "do more" with fewer resources?

We need to recognize the incredible opportunity not just to continue but to thrive in this new uncertainty. We have more and better communication tools than we had in past crises such as the Vietnam War or OPEC incidents. By understanding and utilizing the proven technology of the Internet, we can continue to promote U.S. education efficiently and effectively throughout the world.

As a result of our interaction with hundreds of international student admissions counselors every month, the U.S. Journal of Academics has documented several important trends. Based on that knowledge, here are a few observations:

  • Distance learning opportunities are likely to enjoy increased popularity. As U.S. universities continue to "work out the kinks" in online courses, they are also enhancing the quality of teaching in such courses. Students realize that they can avail themselves of the advantages of a U.S. education, albeit on a less personal level, and still attain a valuable degree.

  • "Armchair Recruitment"?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùefforts coordinated from the comfort of the campus?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùwill increase in efficiency due to sophisticated online programs available at Web sites like usjournal.com, uciep.org, or usuniversities.com. The clear objective of such sites is to facilitate interaction between U.S. recruiters and those overseas students who are most likely to enroll in their particular programs.

  • U.S. visa regulations will continue to tighten for every non-U.S. citizen wishing to enter the United States. U.S. visa regulations are not always easy to understand, but students come here to obtain an education, and learning about the appropriate federal laws should be an integral component of that education.

  • Some campus administrators in the United States may move toward isolationism and away from fostering a global environment. If a leader and his/her constituents were leaning toward a more domestic focus for their institution before September 11, then those tragic events may strengthen this leaning.

However, the sentiments of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will likely prevail. In his recent statement on International Education Week 2001, he said:

These [foreign citizens] enrich our communities with their academic abilities and cultural diversity, and they return home with an increased understanding and often a lasting affection for the United States. I can think of no more valuable asset to our country than the friendship of future world leaders who have been educated here.?¢‚Ǩ¬¶International education prepares our citizens to live, work, and compete in the global economy and promotes tolerance and the reduction of conflict (Powell, 2001, para. 2-4).

Our mission of promoting world peace through education has never seemed as important as it does in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

The Current State of Online Student Recruitment

There is no question that increased use and accessibility of the Internet?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùon a global scale?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùfacilitated last year's 6.4% growth in international student enrollments. A valid debate surfaces, however, when we consider how much larger that figure might have been if the ever-evolving Internet medium had been used more efficiently.

Staff members of the U.S. Journal of Academics review scores of postsecondary academic Web sites, and we communicate with hundreds of international admissions counselors each month. Unfortunately, we have discovered gross inefficiencies in a majority of university sites and systems?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùa fact that is not surprising, given the haste that characterized those sites' creation in the frenzy to boast an online presence just a few short years ago.

Counselors also frequently complain about an inundation of electronic inquiries. Not long ago, these counselors would have treated any international inquiry with prompt, personal attention. The age of the Internet, where information flows more quickly and easily than ever, has diminished the perceived value of those international inquiries. The large volume of e-mail inquiries, in comparison with the relatively few enrollments that result from such inquiries, frustrates most international admissions counselors around the country. The fact that a few international admissions offices have apparently mastered the online process only increases the frustration of those who still need to streamline their own systems.

When applied properly, online recruitment can represent one of the least expensive and most effective tools for attracting students, second only to word-of-mouth referrals from alumni. The key lies in learning how to apply proven technologies of the Internet and its complementary components.

Simple Solutions

The staff of the U.S. Journal of Academics recommends simple, lowest-common-denominator models that may be implemented without breaking the bank and without the cooperation of other offices. These recommendations apply across the board but are perhaps most effective for international offices with full reign over their portion of the campus Web domain.

  • Eliminate all references to e-mail addresses or mailto options: (such as intl_adm@usjournal.com or john_doe@usjournal.com). An e-mail response option allows the student to send any information, most of which may not be of value, to admissions counselors. Instead, construct a coded form with specific categories for first-time inquirers that will virtually guarantee valuable data: given name, family name, e-mail address, postal address, citizenship, date of birth, expected start date, academic program preference, degree preference, available financial support, and other appropriate fields. You can then use this data to direct recruiting efforts with greater efficiency and effectiveness (for example, see the coded student information form provided at our Web site).

  • Implement filtering mechanisms. For instance, if your organization does not offer financial aid, then screen the candidates who click "I can provide less than $10,000 per academic year" or some similar option that appears on the Web site's form. You may also want to filter according to the student's expected duration of study, preference for academic discipline, or past academic performance.

  • Auto-respond to candidates who do not qualify for your program. Redirect them to other helpful online options, such as less expensive affiliate campuses with whom you offer dual enrollment. If you choose to translate portions of your site for the 57% of non-English speakers online, be prepared to respond to those inquiries in those particular languages?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùboth automatically and personally.

  • Direct qualified initial inquiries to the Inbox of the person who is most able to respond promptly and personally. There are a number of useful tools already embedded in most computers, such as the "message rules" feature of Internet Explorer's Outlook Express. Basically, those functions are simple if-then statements written by high-tech programmers; such a code has also been incorporated into simplified Windows-based programs for widespread use. For example, if the incoming message meets certain parameters such as specifying "MBA," then the message automatically goes to the graduate business department. Be as specific as possible when defining your rules.

  • Commit to responding promptly and personally to the filtered inquiries, because these inquirers are more likely to enroll in your particular program. Remember that automated distribution is designed to facilitate faster "human" interaction. At the U.S. Journal of Academics, we have found that the prospective students themselves are far more selective than they used to be about requesting information. A few years ago, students would seek more information from 20 or 30 different U.S. campuses; now, between 35% and 40% of students request information from one particular campus, after having reviewed appropriate resources. Like the rest of us, students now go online to solve a specific problem; the Internet has evolved from a novel pastime to more of a knowledge tool. The bottom line: those filtered student inquiries come from students who have often chosen your institution after a lengthy search, and they definitely warrant your attention.

  • Track every single inquiry through your advertisement via mechanisms that feed the data into simple spreadsheets like those in Microsoft Excel (one popular programming language is MySQL, which works in conjunction with cgi and Perl scripts—all of which are available as open source languages or derivatives thereof). Then, sort the data according to criteria established by your prospect management system.

  • Once you have established a rapport with qualified prospective students, use technology to update them regularly. In circumstances like those caused by the September 11 events, for example, direct communication is crucial. Those U.S. campuses with appropriate e-mail and Internet communication mechanisms intact were able to respond quickly and efficiently to questions and concerns from their prospective students and other critical constituents.

Keep in mind that technology is only as good as the systems in place. Carefully choose the team that will implement that technology while maintaining focus on your fundamental objective of facilitating interaction between international admissions counselors and overseas students most likely to enroll in your particular programs.


Maximizing Web-based efficiencies is critical to the continued success of U.S. campuses in recruiting international students, especially as other English-speaking countries vie for those same enrollees. While the United States continues to be the destination of choice for those studying abroad, the percentage of those studying here has declined from more than 40% to 30% in the past 10 years (Sanders, 1998). In other words, the overall number of students pursing overseas study has increased, but the U.S. portion of the pie has shrunk.

For better or worse, the Internet has largely leveled the playing field for international student recruitment. Whether we like it or not, a "market mentality" now pervades the industry, and U.S. campuses must rise to the technological occasion. The challenge ahead is formidable, yet very much within reach if we commit ourselves to applying proven online concepts.


Institute of International Education (2001). Interest in international educational exchange remains strong in the aftermath of September 11th according to IIE survey. New York: Institute of International Education, 2001. Retrieved December 18, 2001, from http://www.opendoorsweb.org/Press/On-line_Survey_Results.htm

Institute of International Education. (2001). Open doors on the web. Retrieved November 14, 2001, from http://www.opendoorsweb.org/

Powell, C. (2001). Statement on International Education Week 2001. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State. Retrieved October 31, 2001, from http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2001/index.cfm?docid=4462

Sanders, T. (1998, October 30). Leadership in international education: The lost edge? Washington, DC: United States Information Agency and Educational Testing Service.

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