I have just returned from two back-to-back events in Miami: the annual conference of the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) and the ICEF Miami Workshop. At both events, North American educational institutions, student recruitment agencies from around the world, and a range of service providers who support international student mobility came together with the intention of increasing international student numbers in North America.
While this crowd tends to be upbeat and optimistic, it cannot be disputed that current political clouds are overshadowing everyone’s efforts resulting in declining international student numbers. Is that decline a momentary blip, or a trend? How should marketing spend be adjusted in the face of the present zeitgeist? Is there another approach that might act as a ‘hedge’ in the current environment?
What I heard was that there is a hedge. I participated in dozens of conversations, including several lead by Gretchen Dobson of Academic Assembly. During these talks we asked institution after institution whether their overseas alumni are a valuable asset? Again and again, institutions said, emphatically, “yes!” Then we asked what they were doing to mobilize these alumni, and they said, “virtually nothing”. Nearly every institution we spoke with strongly believed that by mixing successful returned alumni with student prospects, conversions could be increased and numbers grown. So why is this not happening?
The reasons are many, but none are acceptable. In some cases, specific units (e.g., the alumni association or Foundation) claim ‘ownership’ of alumni. In other cases, the excuse is lack of funds. Sometimes the excuse is inadequate manpower. All of these obstacles can be overcome with a little bit of initiative and creativity.
First, ownership. Let’s be clear: the relationship with an institution’s graduates is institution-wide. There is no rule that says that once a student graduates they cannot be contacted by anyone representing the school. Everyone working for the institution should be able empowered to communicate with its graduates – they are, after all, members of the family. There is no rule stating that it is inappropriate for an international recruitment office to remain in contact with graduates it recruited five years earlier – and they should! Contact doesn’t imply ownership – it implies relationship.
Once we are over that hurdle, there is the matter of money and manpower. Strategies employing alumni do not necessarily mean that everything must be done at once. Reach out to alumni strategically, first in a limited number of countries or even a single strategic city. Identify your alumni movers and shakers, harness their power, and tell your alumni that they still have a home with your institution and that their opinion matters. Introduce your alumni to your prospects, and show them you care in simple, real ways.
These were the ideas we discussed, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. We live in an age when the public reads and privately assesses other ratings; many question whether coming to the U.S. is wise. At a time when even families are riven by politics, this is when we should reach out to our alumni overseas and tell them that we still care and they are still welcome (#YouAreWelcomeHere). And we need to make sure that our alumni – who still treasure their education, alma mater, and American experience – share those experiences with those who have not yet come.
For Academic Assembly’s latest research on the state if U.S. global alumni management, visit http://info.intead.com/global-alumni-management
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.