The international enrollment numbers are in, and they reflect what those who work in international education know: these have been a troubling few years for the U.S. international education industry. The strong U.S. dollar, disturbing media reports about safety amid gun violence, xenophobia, and the current political climate are all factors contributing to this downtown in enrollment numbers.
In the middle of this perfect storm, international education administrators and recruiters are left with the challenge of promoting U.S. programs. To weather this storm, Lastarria Media has provided some tips for surviving the U.S. international education recession.
Weathering the Storm: Tips for Surviving the U.S. International Education Recession
1. Reorganize/restructure internally as needed
Numbers are down: use this time to your benefit. Take a look at the administrative structure of your institution and make the changes needed to survive (keeping in mind that you will probably need to implement another restructure when numbers again improve). Plan for these fluxes accordingly: have one structure for assigned duties based on low enrollment, and another based on high enrollment. Utilize this period of low enrollment to prepare for the implementation of each of these plans.
2. Complete a website audit
Your website is a marketing and recruiting tool . . . are you using it as such? Take this downtime to review your website and make sure that it has all of the elements it needs. During this audit, ask the following questions:
- Is all information up to date?
- Are all programs fully explained?
- Are the photos fresh?
- Do all links work?
- Are all forms updated?
- Is it the site easy to navigate?
- Is it easy for students to sign up for classes?
Consider hiring a consultant to make suggestions regarding user experience (UX) and to edit the site as a whole. The best time to double your online marketing presence is during times of economic slowdown.
3. Consider revising/updating admissions forms and systems
Now is the time to fix or improve your admissions system. Instruct employees to test your systems and review each step of the online admissions process and PDF application process. Remove unnecessary items and streamline the application to ensure the application process is fluid.
4. Review your message and marketing materials
What is your institution’s message? Do your marketing materials reflect this? Do they clearly show what sets your institution apart from your competitors? While looking for the answers to these questions, it is a good idea to take a look at your competition’s websites and marketing materials. This will show you how your school stacks up.
5. Update and refresh your branding
Is your logo up to date? Is it used throughout your materials? Now is the time to look at this and decide if your school needs a marketing makeover. These investments will pay off when it comes to recruiting in 2019.
6. Focus on your message through social media
Social media costs very little, but the rewards are great. During restructuring, recruit an internal employee to share your school’s message via social media. Have this person do the following:
- Carefully select your school’s branded hashtag
- Follow agencies and partners on Instagram
- Post daily: share school activities, classroom activities, and anything that makes your school special!
- Run IG contests with small prizes (and have students use the hashtag in order to participate)
- Promote activities on Instagram and Instagram stories
- Use Canva to create IG posts (it’s free!)
- Share all IG posts on Facebook
7. Pay close attention to Google Analytics and use Analytics for sales plans
Google Analytics provides useful metrics in regard to your website: our article about Using Web Metrics for a Successful Website explains the ways to turn these statistics into effective marketing and sales plans.
Use your Landing Pages and Pages reports to understand user activity and trends over time: these reports will also aid in identifying underperforming pages that need SEO improvement. Use the Location report to identify emerging markets, and consider translating your website’s main pages into other languages based on this data.
8. Blog, blog, blog
A blog is your marketing tool, your way of connecting to current and potential students, and your key to improving SEO (learn all about this in our post, Why IEPs Need Blogs). The most important aspects of blogging are to blog consistently and to integrate keywords into all posts: both will improve your SEO rapidly.
When blogging, follow these ideas:
- Encourage teachers to host writing contests: publish the winner on the blog
- Have teachers guest blog
- Ask your Activities Coordinator to provide photos and updates
- Have a Student of the Week
- Share on social media
9. Connect with alumni
Word of mouth remains an excellent marketing tool. Connect with your alumni through a newsletter, alumni events, or a LinkedIn group. Offer them specials if they’d like to return, and seek testimonials from them as well. Consider embedding a custom Google Map to illustrate the diversity of your student population: add testimonials and photos to each popup to recycle your testimonials in a unique and engaging way.