Online ConferenceLeading international education researcher and author Rajika Bhandari helped open NAFSA’s 2014 Online Conference by challenging participants to think critically about how “big data” can positively impact their work as international educators.

In her plenary address, “’Big Data’: The 21st Century Game-Changer in Global International Student Recruitment,” Bhandari illustrated the wealth of information that “big data” can provide by asking participants, “Did you know that [international] students from Kuwait, Bangladesh, and Venezuela have been increasing rapidly? Did you know that South Korean students are very interested in the fine and applied arts? And that Nigerian students favor the health sciences?”

Bhandari, who is deputy vice president of research and evaluation at the Institute of International Education (IIE), and director of IIE’s Center for Academic Mobility Research, brought to life the ways that institutions and campuses can successfully strategize about their decisionmaking processes by understanding and incorporating “big data” into conversations about context, benchmarking, and campus advocacy.

Bhandari explained that one of the most important reasons why international educators need to pay attention to data is that “big data” has the potential to provide resources for maximizing student success. This can range from institutions using “big data” to improve their recruitment efforts to demonstrating the value of investing in international higher education to external stakeholders.

Despite questions regarding reliability, validity, and quality assurance when using “big data” to inform institutional strategy, international enrollment management strategy has become increasingly data driven since the 1970s, according to Bhandari. This has allowed for more individualized analysis of student behavior for their college selection process, providing greater opportunities for universities to build stronger connections to potential students.

“Knowing this kind of information can help you reach international students that are interested in the types of programs your institution offers,” Bhandari stated.

Bhandari also emphasized that it is essential for senior international officers, provosts, and international student services staff to interact with enrollment management administrators in building and supporting a “big data”-driven international enrollment management plan. Bhandari offered that the first step in using “big data” is for key stakeholders to define a very clear set of questions that you need answers to before jumping in. She also suggested that key stakeholders examine their existing data architecture before going forward with something new, and continually reflect on external data sources.

Bhandari concluded her address with a quote from Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard: “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.”

The field of international education is increasingly becoming data-driven, and it is our professional responsibility to stay on top of these data to continue making the most informed decisions that benefit our institutions and our students.

The NAFSA 2014 Online Conference, International Student Recruitment: Data-Driven Strategies for Success, is currently underway, but you can still register and join the conversation.

The 2014 Online Conference is generously supported by major conference sponsor Terra Dotta.