Beyond the Numbers: Recruitment Strategies for a Changing World

As international students stay home, the financial impact of the pandemic on U.S. institutions could exceed $3 billion. Short-term strategies can lead to long-term successes.
Photo: Shutterstock
Mark Toner

When Rachel Scholten, MA, joined Loyola University Maryland as its first director of international admission last November, she had an ambitious plan to jump-start international recruitment at the institution. Her first overseas trip was in February—just weeks before, as she puts it, “the world shut down.”

“This year has not played out as we expected,” Scholten says. “I have all these ideas about markets I wanted to target, and all of that is basically scrapped at this point.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe this spring, closing campuses and bringing most international travel to a standstill, institutions focused on the immediate challenges—helping students return home and planning for an uncertain fall. At the time this article went to press in early August, many institutions were in the beginning stages of mapping out recruitment plans for the coming academic year, all of which have been made more complex by the uncertainty of whether travel will resume in the spring.

“A lot of the decisionmaking is outside the control of colleges and universities,” Scholten says.

Yet many institutions already feel the impact, with even more likely to be affected as time goes on. Sharp drops in international student enrollment could cost U.S. institutions as much as $3 billion, according to a NAFSA study released in May. This financial impact has been described as an existential threat for internationalization efforts—and in some cases even for entire institutions. Even so, international admissions and enrollment leaders say it is important to

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