To Market, To Market: How a New Strategy Can Increase International Student Enrollment

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Building Innovation into your Higher Ed Application Strategy

International Student Enrollement

The key to sustainable success is leveraging the strengths and uniqueness of our institutions, countries, locations and instructors. Offer students an experience they just can’t get anywhere else. Show them a side of the world they would normally never see and give them opportunities to connect, communicate and change.

– Sherry Yuan Hunter, Director of the English Language Program, University of Toronto

We live in a globalized world. English has become the dominant language of business and international students are increasingly flocking overseas to North American institutions to perfect their language skills. Higher education institutions – at least, those looking to compete in the global sphere – are capitalizing on this niche market and reaping the rewards of increasing enrollment figures.

International English Language Programs (IELP) are great revenue generators for institutions agile enough to compete, but they require a lot of advanced planning to be successful. Even once a program is implemented, institutions must be diligent as they recruiting their student body and grow and evolve their programs.

How can institutions change their marketing tactics to compete for international students in an oversaturated marketplace? Below are two techniques North American colleges and universities can utilize when looking to break into this market.


Marketing is expensive, especially when an institution is reaching out to students on different continents. Once you factor in the cost of producing translated materials and sending staff abroad to recruitment fairs, many IELP programs have to rethink their budget. By partnering with another institution or with a recruitment agency, you can leverage your own strengths while still maintaining your bottom line.

Here is what one administrator and one industry leader had to say about the value of partnerships to IELP marketing endeavors:

One of the most valuable aspects of having the consortium is being able to share knowledge and perspective to vet ideas with each other. … One of the direct benefits is that we’re able to do some international marketing together and sometimes we’re able to send business to each other because each of the campuses are distinctive and have distinctive strengths.

– Beth Greenwood, Associate Dean of International Programs, UC Davis Extension

Most American institutions do not have the knowledge and resources to recruit international students globally. Simply putting up a website and/or participating in a few recruitment fairs in a handful of countries will not produce meaningful results. Institutions need access to major recruitment infrastructure and resources, something no single university can afford to invest in on its own.

– David Stremba, Managing Director for North America, INTO University Partnerships

Highlight Student-Centric Services

International students have very different needs and expectations than their domestic counterparts. Many come from different cultures with varying degrees of independence when selecting where they will study abroad. Many students enter IELP programs with the expectation of eventually matriculating into an institution’s undergraduate program. It is therefore important for institutions to utilize their marketing material to highlight the programming and services that meet this population’s specific set of requirements.

Here is what one international student and one administrator had to say about the importance of IELP programs highlighting how they benefit students:

They should have advertised [the programs] a little better. I feel like for most American schools that do venture outside the country, their voice is not heard that much. … Global universities [with international student populations] should emphasize that they are caring.

– Rajeeth Dev Anand, President of the International Students Association, Michigan State University

When it’s done well and it’s supported by strong teachers in your classrooms and strong administrators running it, and when it’s well connected to the institution, it really does bring a wonderful dimension to what the institution is able to offer students from around the world. It provides great instruction. It provides a seamless introduction to the institution.

– Maureen MacDonald, Dean of Continuing Studies, University of Victoria

Increasing international student enrollment goes beyond crafting a better marketing strategy. For more tips on how to recruit more international students, check out this Executive Guide.

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