Taking a Closer Look at Emerging Asian Markets

In a guest post today, John M. Baworowsky writes about how students make their college decisions, and the effect that can have on their campus experience. Mr. Baworowsky, vice president for enrollment management at Dominican University of California, is one of several professionals writing occasional guest posts on Head Count this year.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Southeast Asia as part of group of university administrators recruiting students from Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand.  It wasn’t my first experience recruiting in Asia; however, in the past I spent most of the time recruiting in some of the more established Asian student markets such as China and Japan.  Unlike previous trips, this one was was part of a newer initiative of my university to reach out to emerging Asian markets.

In recent years, international student recruitment has become a key strategic goal for many forward-thinking universities responding to the cumulative effect of the decreased number of traditional students, declining U.S. birthrate, decreased state aid, increasing number of international students studying abroad, and the importance of providing a global education. Those developments in U.S. higher education have led to a broader discussion on campuses of what the student body and the educational experience of the next ten years should encompass.

While many universities new to the international student recruitment game tend to focus more on the more mature markets, such as China, South Korea, and India, there are some real advantages to investigating recruiting in emerging Southeast Asian countries.  Diversifying your international student body, decreasing the risk of recruiting in only a few countries, and establishing a foothold in key emerging markets should be a basic strategy of your long-term international student recruitment plan.

The increased number of students coming from Vietnam and Indonesia, in particular should catch more colleges’ attention.  Vietnam is a top emerging market, with a 13.5 percent increase in students coming to the U.S between 2010 and 2011 and a current rank of eighth largest sending country to America, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2011 Open Doors report. After some years of decline, Indonesia is showing a recent increased interest in the U.S. encouraged by President Obama’s goal of doubling the number of Indonesian students studying in U.S. institutions, the cooperation of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Commercial Service, and the recent increase in U.S. universities recruiting there.  During my trip, our group of 13 U.S. institutions participated in study abroad fairs in two major Indonesian cities and saw a strong interest from parents and students in U.S. higher education.

At the fairs, I had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of students and parents and learn first-hand their interests, needs, and challenges. These students were quite practical in their orientation to majors, primarily seeking programs in business and the sciences, particularly with an international focus. Students also expressed keen interest in internships and other opportunities to gain practical international experience and networking opportunities in the US. Parents often inquired about scholarships, career services, and a safe campus environment. These parents overwhelmingly communicated that they value a U.S. education and that they were willing to pay for a quality education for their children.

One family in particular struck me as having similar interests as an American family beginning their college search. The student’s dad announced that his son was one of the best golfers in Indonesia, and they were looking for a good U.S. institution for his son to study business and participate in a scholarship-level golf program. The dad had a very good understanding of the NCAA and of U.S. institutions. Interestingly, the parents attended the college fair alone as their son was in a high school golf tournament that day.

Both parents were looking forward to follow-up from our coach and they were planning to have their son complete his application electronically.  I really enjoyed seeing the excitement in their faces as they saw this as a major step in the life of their son. Similarly, other students we met in Jakarta had an enthusiasm for American education that I found very appealing. We met a young swimmer who wanted to participate in a collegiate swim team. She and her parents talked excitedly about the possibility of coming to the US. In all cases, we encouraged the parents to apply for a visitor visa at the same time that their children were applying for student visas. I felt that inviting the parents to come visit added credibility to my belief that the students would have an excellent experience on our campus.

While in Southeast Asia, I also met with several international student recruitment agencies.  Though there is some debate over the use of agents in international recruiting, in most Asian countries, college-bound students look to agency counselors for advice and application assistance. But keep in mind, if your institution decides to use agents that working effectively with them requires much more than signing an agreement. First, it is critical to determine if the agency meets high ethical standards and provides good service to students. There are a few organizations that are now certifying agencies. Second, it is important to determine if a particular agency is a good fit for your institution. Like any business relationship, it is important to determine if the agency supports students looking for majors that match your institution’s academic program offerings.  Some agencies specialize in graduate programs; others have a student base with wide-ranging interests.  Then, once an agreement is signed, it is important to provide frequent briefings to the counselors working at the agency. Since turnover naturally occurs at agencies, such briefings should occur at least every other year.

International student recruitment is always evolving and we, as enrollment professionals, need to keep up with the trends to remain effective in this market.

Many factors point to Southeast Asia as a promising region for the next wave of international student recruitment, moving us further toward the diversification of our student body and the worthy goal of global education.

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