Trends, insights and research to inform growth and innovation strategies in international higher education.

September 24, 2011

The Changing Profession of Admissions: From Counselling to Selling?

Admissions profession is undergoing a rapid transformation in its character, purpose and approaches. A recent report by insidehighered found "Clashes of Money and Values" driven by increasing pressure to look for sources of revenue. This is resulting in importance of full-fee paying, out-of-state and international students (Of course, this shift is more pronounced in public institutions as they are directly affected by state budget cuts.)

Another interesting dimension of the report relates to increasing use of agents for recruitment (one-third of the respondents are considering using agents but do not do so now, according to the report). This supports my assertion that there will be increase in interest for using agents, however it is a risky proposition due to incentive models which promote compromises to integrity of admissions process including document frauds (here is my earlier post). This concern of document frauds is also validated in the survey where nearly half of respondents (47 percent) agreed that agents "often play a direct role in helping international applicants fabricate information."

Admissions at many institutions is shifting from its purpose of finding best fit for the student to finding student with highest revenue potential. This transformation already took place earlier with for-profit institutions. Last month, The Department of Justice sued Education Management which received $2.2 billion of federal financial aid in fiscal 2010. "The complaint said the company had a 'boiler-room style sales culture' in which recruiters were instructed to use high-pressure sales techniques and inflated claims about career placement to increase student enrollment, regardless of applicants’ qualifications."

Another shift in the admissions profession relates to the role of efficiency, predictability and transparency. This is driven by use of data and forecasting for enrollment management. Eric Hoover highlights the change in the role of admissions dean when "he was more of a sage than a salesman...His college's bottom line was someone else's concern; he was paid to counsel students, not to crunch numbers." He adds "A profession that once relied on anecdotes and descriptive data now runs on complex statistical analyses and market research. Knowing how to decipher enrollment outcomes is a given; knowing how to forecast the future is a must." (Here is my quote on use of research and data in admissions in NAFSA International Educator and in the Chronicle)

Given the changing competitive and financial landscape, profession of admissions has to adapt and evolve. While shift towards performance improvement, transparency and efficiency is a welcome direction, compromises to the integrity of the profession is not.


Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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September 11, 2011

International student enrollment post 9/11: This time for America?

International student mobility in the decade following the tragedy of 9/11 is characterized by a rapid growth supported by growing demand from China and India. Australia and the UK had been successful in absorbing most of the growth in the demand driven by aggressive recruitment practices and easier immigration policies as compared to strict visa policies of the US post 9/11.

Size of international student market for Australia grew by 131% between 2002 and 2009, adding more than 350,000 students. Likewise, the UK grew by 67% in the period between 2001 and 2009, adding more than 160,000 students. In contrast, US added about 100,000 students and grew by 19% between 2001 to 2009. This is quite a slow growth for the US given the size of the higher education system.

Another major characteristic of the growth has been over-dependence on top two source countries--China and India.  For example, proportion of Chinese and Indian students has doubled in Australia and the UK from 22% in 2002 to 44%. Likewise, every fourth international student in the UK and every third international student in the US is from China or India. This over-reliance on two markets highlights that countries and institutions have to make sure that they do not lose these markets at the same time develop other markets as a de-risking strategy.

Nearly 385,000 more Chinese and Indian were studying in Australia, the UK and US in 2009 as compared to 2001. This also proves that demand from these markets is increasing despite expansion of the local capacity, albeit at the expense of quality. This is driven several demand and supply drivers as discussed here.

However, the recent recession has significantly altered the mobility patterns in last couple of years. At one level this has compelled US public institutions to more aggressively look for internatinoal students as an additional source of revenue and at the same time Australia and the UK had to tighten their immigration policies for students. This is a beginning of a new decade of growth international student enrollment in the US higher education.

Some of the early reports of fall'2011 enrollment are showing significant increase in international student enrollment. For example, at the University of Iowa first-time freshmen international students enrollment reached record level of 484 this as compared to 388 last year. Likewise, for Arkansas State University international student enrollment for fall'11 crossed 1,000 students for the first time as compared to 780 students last year. Even last year, public universities had shown healthy growth in international enrollment.

A decade after 9/11, US higher education is set to strengthen its leadership in attracting international student. Driven by aggressive efforts by universities and unattractiveness of alternative destinations, US international student enrollment in the US will grow at a healthy rate.


Related reading:
America calling
US is still the most attractive destination
International recruitment agents: Playing with fire?

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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September 05, 2011

Quality assurance in for-profit education: Tame risks, not growth

"If quality assurance is partly about risk, are for-profit institutions inherently more risky than public institutions?", asks a discussions paper released by Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and UNESCO) based on a recent meeting on for-profit higher education.

The paper looks into the quality assurance challenges and needs with internationalization of for-profit higher education institutions supported by ambitious growth goals and technological advancements with e-learning models. It is becoming increasingly complex to assure quality in a multi-country delivery format. For example, there are 420,000 people outside the UK pursuing UK degrees through a range of models in 100 countries.

I agree with report at one level and disagree on another.
  • Agree: For-profit is indispensable in meeting global demand 
The report notes, "...taking an international perspective, it may be that distinguishing within the private sector between for-profit and not-for-profit institutions is unhelpful.  Public universities become profit-making enterprises when they operate outside their home jurisdictions." It adds, "The key question is what surpluses are spent on. All public institutions are engaged in making cross-subsidies among units. However, the private sector may be more disciplined about the way it reinvests surpluses."
Developing countries are anyways resource constrained and investing in fixed assets for meeting increasing demand is an inefficient way to grow. Private institutions have taken leap in exploiting and adopting online learning technologies and economies of scale which may better meet the needs developing countries. Of course, it does not apply to all level of programs and fields of studies, however, it does hold immense potential.
  • Disagree: "level playing" field for quality assurance and transparency 
The report argues for level playing field for public and for-profit institutions and states "The main plea is for a level playing field. Any good institution starts with the student and builds a business model from there in a transparent fashion." The responsibility of quality assurance is to define and allow only "good institutions", however, many bad institutions flourish. The experiences of aggressive recruitment practices at for-profit sector in the US and collapse of international students market in Australia show that for-profit should be held for much higher standards of transparency, disclosures and quality assurance. The information gap between students and institutions is very high and given the aggressive marketing tactics employed by for-profit, students are highly likely to be misled.

By definition, the primary focus of "for-profit" institutions is to maximize profits and the simple rule of profit maximization is to cut costs (technology) and raise revenues (enrollment). While for-profits have done a great job in bringing cost-efficiency they have also vitiated the confidence about their recruitment marketing practices. A strong quality assurance process is required to  enable growth of cross-border for-profit education, while managing the risks it poses to students.


Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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September 01, 2011

Guest Post: Students from India Crossing Borders for Higher Education by Louis Berends, Ph.D.

Dr. Louis Berends is University Relations Manager, Midwest at SIT Study Abroad. Lou holds a Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago (LUC) in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies. He has studied at Brunel University (Uxbridge, U.K.), the University of Oxford (St. Catherine's College), and LUC's Rome Center in Italy. He has presented many academic papers at various settings including Columbia University –Teachers College and Harvard's Graduate School of Education. He enjoys reading, music, and anything outdoors.

Students from India Crossing Borders for Higher Education: “Pushed and Pulled” by Reputation, Family, and Field of Study By Louis Berends, Ph.D. 

Each day the world feels a little smaller. To be sure, globalization can be seen in many forms these days – through the McDonaldization of capitalized nations, international assessment of education at all levels, and the ease for anyone to flip a switch and view ongoing wars and uprisings captured on live television. Beyond the definitions that refer to economic linkages and the death of the nation-state, globalization is a process (Rhoads, 2006). It is a process for understanding the world in which we live in – a lens into the complex and interconnectedness of many nations and institutions that have come to define the beginning of the 21st Century. Not only are the forces of globalization (i.e., the internet, technology and innovation) driving current global market conditions, it is also the process that drives the emerging knowledge economy that shapes the future financial landscape (Gürüz, 2008).

One such form of globalization can be understood by examining the process of international student mobility. More students than ever before are studying higher education in other countries than in any other era previous. There are accepted benchmarks that currently exist on measuring international higher education, namely those housed at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, and the Open Doors Report from the Institute for International Education (IIE). However, all reports fall short in measuring the “why” factor (among other methodological shortcomings). Moreover, how can we measure the elusive question of “why” students pursue higher education outside of their home countries? One such way to conceptualize why students decide to study in other countries is to frame the discussion through “push” and “pull” theory.

 Mazzarol et al. (2002) postulate that “push factors operate within the source country and initiate a student’s decision [and] pull factors operate within a host country to make that country relatively attractive to international students.” In the context of students from India, scholarships, reputation of program abroad, and professional and work-related opportunities can all be considered “pull” factors. Meanwhile, “push” factors may involve family pressures, geographic proximity, and unfair access to local education (to name a few). My current research examines graduate students from India in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that pursue studies in the U.S. or Australia and the specific decision-making processes experienced and then self-reporting through self-reflection.

In order to fully capture the decision-making experiences of graduate students from India, I selected a mixed methods approach to my research methodology. Samples were drawn from two U.S. universities located in or near a large metropolitan area in the Midwest, and two comparable Australian universities located in Western Australia.

The complexity of measuring student flows in the global market of higher education is vast. Cross-border students can, and continue to be seen as “cash cows” (Marginson, 2002). Understanding the true nature and context of decision-making processes of the increasingly mobile international student is layered with a multitude of considerations. Such considerations relate to the overarching theme of student choice and selection of higher education institutions overseas. There are a wide range of reasons and factors that contribute to the overall decision-making process of students from India. Future studies attempting to extract the various decision-making factors of STEM field students would be wise to design an instrument based on pilot surveys and focus groups with the targeted constituents before implementing large scale research efforts. When comparing students from India that decide to go to the U.S. vs. Australia, higher education administrators would do well in consulting the many experts that exist in the area of international higher education; however, the short answer is, no – prospective students from India are no longer going down under, they’re going everywhere else.
Dr. Berends' dissertation is available at

Picture by Dr. Louis Berends

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