Why US universities use social media to recruit international students
Source: NordWood Themes on Unsplash

November 8, 2016 was the date many claimed to put US universities in unchartered territory. This was the day property-developer-turned-reality-star Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States.

Following this and for the first time in a decade of high growth, international enrolment at US colleges and universities are now on the decline. In the fall of 2017, the number of new foreign students fell by an average of seven percent, data from the Institute of International Education shows.

While the fall could be traced to before Trump took office, many have blamed him and his immigration policies for playing a crucial role in turning away potential international students from the country’s shores.

International students, the nation’s “golden goose” for contributing billions to the economy and for subsidising the cost of local education, are increasingly choosing to study elsewhere in regions like Canada, Australia and a range of other English-speaking countries.

This means US colleges and universities are losing huge streams of much-needed revenue. Some feeling the sting, particularly those in the Midwest, are slashing budgets and cutting classes and programmes to adjust to this new reality.

Another area that has been forced to reform lies in recruitment processes.

According to a survey by non-profit organization World Education Services (WES), American higher education institutes are adapting their enrolment strategies to soften the impact of decline. More than  270 higher education professionals in the US were surveyed in January and February this year.

According to the research, they are seeking to create a more welcoming environment for international students, as well as focusing on promoting a positive message.

The main tool employed? Social media.

“The vast majority of respondents also reported that they have altered, or plan to alter, their recruitment strategies. They noted a particular focus on social media (78 percent) and on domestic travel for “backyard” recruitment (72 percent)—the domestic recruiting of international students living in the US,” wrote the report.

We can see this in Georgetown University’s social media super campaign, Georgetown Stories. Filming a dozen students each year, the videos show student life at the Washington, DC campus as it truly is. According to MadHatterTech, this tactic resulted in monumental increase in social media engagement on sites like Instagram and Facebook (2007 percent and 348 percent increase, respectively).

Another is the University of Salford’s Tinder-like, Match Made in Salford application. Instead of dates, prospective students get to swipe left or right for potential courses that match them.

Nick Wilson, social media coordinator at Texas A&M University, spoke about the university’s @aggiebound Twitter and Instagram account which shares important information about application, housing, financial aid, etc. in addition to informal discussion about life at the school.

[hybrid_insta url=’https://www.instagram.com/p/6Z26fQo03D’]
“With a separate account, @aggiebound can be more focused on customer service and helping prospective students through finding their way to Texas A&M,” Wilson said.

“Social media is an important tool because you have to meet prospective and current students where they are…Social media is where many students find and share information, engage with others, and join communities.”

WES’s research found that US higher education providers are championing newer, less expensive social media strategies over the traditional recruitment method of overseas travel.

“Virtual and social media outreach can be used to develop relationships with students, to inform them of developments in immigration and visa policy that may affect their student status, and more,” it wrote.

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