Brave New Worlds

Exploring emerging markets requires innovative, strategic thinking—not following the crowds.
International students at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, participate in the school’s flag parade. Lehigh has recently focused on recruiting students from countries off the “beaten path,” says ISSS director Samba Dieng. Photo: Courtesy Lehigh University
Mark Toner

Last September, Samba Dieng, Lehigh University’s director of international student and scholar services, returned to his native Senegal as part of a nearly month-long trip that crisscrossed the continent. 

Traveling through a dozen African countries, Dieng visited 50 high schools and community-based organizations and hosted presentations at U.S. embassies, doing “whatever I could [do] to spread the word about Lehigh,” he says. Some countries, like Ghana and Kenya, are familiar to recruiters from Lehigh and other U.S. universities. Others, like French-speaking Senegal and Swaziland, are less so. 

“We’ve never taken such a giant leap by diving into so many countries known as places not on the beaten path,” says Dieng. “We wanted to test the waters.” 

Overall, Lehigh’s applications from Africa doubled following Dieng’s trip. But just as important, the responses across the continent are helping admissions officials decide where to target limited resources. 

Lehigh is not alone in exploring unfamiliar countries in recent years. Driven by a decline in international students—U.S. colleges saw the number of newly enrolled international students fall 7 percent on average during the 2017–18 school year, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE)—and shifting global mobility trends, many institutions are expanding their recruitment efforts to new countries across the globe. 

Some of the tactics used by institutions to identify and recruit students from emerging markets—including building relationships, using data to make decisions based on return on investment, and focusing on an institution’s unique strengths—are similar to the approaches used in large sending countries. But

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