Learning in the Lean Years

Why international enrollment management professionals should rethink what return on investment means and how to measure it.
Photo: Shutterstock
Jessica Sandberg, MA

There was a time not long ago when measuring success in international enrollment management was as simple as offering up one figure: year-on-year percentage growth. Between roughly 2006 and 2015, international students enrolled at U.S. universities in record numbers. For many institutions, small efforts saw big gains during this decade of steady growth. 

However, due to changing economic and political conditions, the annual number of new international students enrolling at U.S. institutions has been slowly declining in recent years. The industry appears to be on the downslope of the boom. In these leaner times, enrollment teams may be under increasing pressure to account for return on investment (ROI), a phrase now familiar to most international enrollment professionals. 

A plethora of tools, resources, articles, presentations, and books have been delivered on the subject of fiscal accountability in international enrollment management. But can these tools serve enrollment professionals equally well when times are lean as they do when they are abundant? Do the tools adequately capture the totality of enrollment teams’ work and the value that international students bring to their campus communities? 

While contemplating how to confront new challenges in international education and recruitment, it is also a good time to reconsider how institutions benefit from international students—and then turn a critical eye toward assessing the efforts made to enroll them. 

Existing Tools to Measure ROI in International Enrollment

Early efforts at defining the value of international student enrollment generally placed it into a broad context by measuring the impact students

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