Bridge the digital divide to recruit mobile students

A survey of nearly 5,000 America-bound international students has recommended that to boost recruitment, universities should adapt to student technology use, embrace the marketing power of the university network and tailor content to communicate their value propositions to students.

A report on the survey, Bridging the Digital Divide: Segmenting and recruiting international millennial students, was published last week by World Education Services, or WES.

The online survey was of applicants for foreign credential evaluation at WES, and was conducted from October 2013 to March 2014 by research associates Li Chang and Paul Schulmann, and research assistant Zhengrong Lu.

‘Millennial’ students – those born between 1980 and 2000 – communicate, acquire and share information differently to previous generations, while adopting and adapting to technologies at an unprecedented rate, says the report.

“To achieve effective and informed international enrolment strategies, we recommend that higher education institutions adopt evidence-based practices to better understand the constantly changing needs and behaviours of international Millennial students.”

The study

The study analyses the use by international ‘Millennial’ students of technology, psychographic characteristics that influence their information-seeking, and differences in behaviour by level of higher education.

It focuses on bachelor and masters students from China and India, the two major source countries of international students in the US.

Six topics are examined – the digital activities of Millennials, their preferred information channels, the types of information they seek, the people who influence where students apply, their study-abroad motivations, and their views on education and success.

As with a previous report*, students are divided into four groups – Explorers, Highfliers, Strivers and Strugglers – based on their academic preparedness and financial resources. The groups were originally conceived by Dr Rahul Choudaha, chief knowledge officer and senior director of strategic development at WES.

Explorers are interested in living abroad and are prepared to spend money on services that enable study-abroad to overcome relatively low academic preparedness. Highfliers are academically and financially well endowed and driven by ambition to be the best, and see studying at a top institution as one of their goals, according to Choudaha.

Strivers are mostly driven by career advancement. They are academically well prepared but may lack financial resources and require financial aid. Strugglers tend to be less interested in the quality of institutions, and may be seeking education as a pathway to emigration.

Strivers formed the largest proportion of international students represented in the study – 33% – followed by Highfliers (27%), Strugglers (20%) and Explorers (20%).

The proportion of students by segment varies, but the differences between bachelor and masters students is narrow compared to differences with doctoral students. “Fifty-four percent of Millennials who plan to pursue a doctoral degree are Strivers, while only 10% are Highfliers and 7% are Explorers,” says the report.


Based on the research, WES recommend three primary actions to effectively recruit international Millennials:
  • • Adapt to students' technology use. “Fifty-six percent of Millennials used a smartphone to search for and apply to US colleges or universities, suggesting mobile devices play a large role in their prospect-to-application journey,” says the report.

    It recommends that institutions devise a digital strategy – for example, making websites more mobile-friendly for international enrolment management.

  • • Embrace the power of network marketing. A collective university network exerts the biggest influence on Millennial students' decision-making processes, followed by family, according to the report, and institutions need to bear this very much in mind when conveying their value proposition.

    “First, admissions officers, faculty, current students and alumni comprise a cohesive university network; institutions need to form strategic relationships with these stakeholders and use them to interact with prospective students,” the report says.

    “Second, families should be an integral part of outreach efforts. For example, institutions can invite students’ families to networking events and deliver e-newsletters to families, in addition to other measures.”

  • • Tailor content to communicate the institution’s value proposition to students. Despite being digitally active, international Millennials are more likely to consume online content than produce it. “This highlights the importance of an institution’s role in generating relevant content to attract this audience.”
“Reassessing your recruitment strategies and adapting them to the needs of your target audience is the best way to ensure a good return on investment for your recruitment efforts.

* Not All International Students Are the Same: Understanding segments, mapping behavior.

** There is an opportunity to learn more through a free two-part webinar series, which will present in-depth findings of the report and will be held on 9 and 26 October 2014.