Strategic International Enrollment Management

By India Karavackas, Director of the Office of Global Engagement at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

With mounting pressure to help internationalize campuses, increase enrollments and shore up bottom lines, college admission offices across the country are increasing their focus on international student recruitment. The number of international students in the US has grown from 586,323 in 2002-03 to 819,644 in 2012-13 (a 40 percent increase) according to Open Doors (2013), and there is no sign of a trend reversal in the near future. To capture a share of the market, campuses have been pressed to compete on an entirely different level, and now actively seek students with limited English proficiency who can be conditionally admitted and begin a unique pathway of entry into the school. They start that journey with an English language study program.

At forty-five years old, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey is still a relatively new institution. Nestled within 2,500 pristine acres of the protected National Pinelands Reserve in southern New Jersey, the campus has stealthily enjoyed a quiet growth in full-time enrollments (FTE), footprint and stature. In less than 10 years, it has gone from being an obscure, quiet campus to a campus on the rise, sailing through its last accreditation with high marks and propelling up through the rankings to become one of the six ‘most promising and innovative” schools in the North according to U.S. News and World Report (2014). Its Carnegie classification for community engagement is testament to its mission-driven focus on serving the residents of the surrounding region and New Jersey students in general. With these accomplishments in hand, it would appear Stockton was already poised to enter a market where rankings and marks of distinction carry high value. However, growing the young, regionally focused institution had left little opportunity to devote resources to building the special infrastructure needed for initial recruitment and ultimate retention of international students. 

With the changing higher education landscape, new mandates testing the value of postsecondary education, and the expanding global economy, Stockton’s reach for the international market is also mission-driven and rooted in three major initiatives. First, Stockton crafted a new institutional strategic plan in 2008 that focused on four major themes (Learning, Engagement, Global Perspectives and Sustainability) seen as either strengths of the institution and/or necessary foci relevant for a 21st century education. Of the four themes, Stockton recognized that its work in international education was the least coordinated and readily identifiable.  As such, the second initiative was Stockton’s participation in the eighth cohort of the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Internationalization Laboratory, which provides institutions with customized guidance and insight as they review their internationalization goals and develop strategic plans.  The third and almost simultaneous initiative involved the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) exercise to articulate learning outcomes for every graduating student. Faculty and staff were challenged to identify and define LEAP's 10 Essential Outcomes included Global Awareness as among them. Each of these initiatives served to illuminate the role of international students as a necessary and integral part of the Stockton community.

Of these initiatives, the ACE Laboratory peer review process in particular emphasized the need for more international students. According to the recommendation, the enrollment of more international students would help internationalize the campus, foster a learning environment where students would be more globally aware and cross-culturally competent, and better equip those students to compete in a global workforce. Because Stockton had not previously engaged in international student recruitment and needed to build the support infrastructure, the peer report recommended Stockton complete a strategic international enrollment management plan (SIEMP).

As with any strategic plan, there were some easy fixes, some low hanging fruit and some difficult-to-reach goals. Creating a more transparent and inviting admission process and website, delivering higher quality service and support to international students, providing intercultural competency development opportunities for faculty and staff, and applying to the US State Department to become a J visa sponsor are just a sample few.  And of course each goal had numerous layers. But perhaps the most beneficial yield of the SIEMP exercise was that it enabled the institution to identify some real structural challenges and to be efficient in its use of resources to address them. Utilizing the increasingly popular “conditional admission” model, Stockton was able to tackle its three most significant challenges: 1) it lacked an English as a Second Language (ESL) program; 2) it did not have international name recognition; and 3) it was situated in a remote part of southern New Jersey that potentially lacked appeal to international students.  

Stockton had the choice to address each challenge independently, or seek out a holistic partnership that would help establish a track record in the market and provide the academic English component as well. When comparing the options of building an in-house ESL program or out-sourcing to a partner, there were factors to consider beyond brick-and-mortar space, staffing and time line for eventual accreditation. No matter how desirable a home-grown program might have been, it was recognized there would be challenges in attracting students to enroll in it as a pathway to full matriculation into the college’s general population. Chiefly, substantial resources would have to have been allocated to market the institution, establish its international profile, and convince international students that yes—a great educational experience could definitely be had in southern New Jersey.  It was ultimately determined a partnership was the best option. Thus, the search for the right partner included finding one that not only had an excellent academic English program, but one that could readily help offset the deficits in name recognition and location, as well as immediate costs in advertising, recruiting, processing students' immigration documents, not to mention the staff time and travel normally associated with those activities. For Stockton, this strategic partner was ELS Educational Services, Inc. (ELS), a company with long roots in the field, an established brand and vast recruiting network. Under this partnership, which will have its grand opening on the Stockton campus this August, international students may be conditionally admitted to Stockton pending their completion of the ELS English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Level 112 and in lieu of presenting TOEFL or IELTS scores.

To be practical, Stockton recognizes that a partnership with a third party vendor is not the be-all and end-all to its strategy to bring in more international students. For the interim, however, it has proven to be the fastest track to getting a foot in an increasingly competitive market and spurring campus internationalization.

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