Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Apply Now is Too Late in Education Abroad

The following is a guest post from Samantha Martin, CEO and Founder of Via TRM.

In a time where international educators are called to increase participation in education abroad at the institutional and national level (e.g. Generation Study Abroad and 100,000 Strong), the message of “Apply Now” comes too late for eligible students who were interested at one time but who had little or no engagement with education abroad messages prior to the call to apply.

 “Apply Now” is the student decision phase that offices have historically been able to support operationally. However, the lack of a strategy, resources, and supporting systems for the “just curious” and interested student is a missed opportunity and means genuinely interested students are not adequately tracked, understood, or engaged.

The challenge is that education abroad offices are not equipped to scale, operating with limited staff and inefficiencies such as tracking student interest on paper and across multiple systems. Given that support for education abroad is inconsistent across academic departments, most colleges and universities lack a cohesive strategy for early-stage academic planning for education abroad as well.

What can be done to reach the early-stage interested student?

In addition to aligning education abroad and the home campus curriculum and following well-established best practices, education abroad practitioners can build, cultivate, and provide value to students far before an application decision is reached. This requires an openness to learning new models, developing professional skills in ethical sales & marketing tactics, and support from leadership to define success metrics around engagement and not just applications.

Practically speaking, education abroad offices can reach new student populations and create more consistent advising and application experiences by establishing a distinct brand identity, defining the target audience, and tailoring messages to specific student segments prior to the big ask of “apply now”.

Education abroad offices might consider doing away with gate-keeper policies that require students to attend in-person group sessions or clearly define academic and professional goals before speaking to a full time advisor. An alternative is building an advising culture defined by availability and service to all students, regardless of application readiness.

There is, of course, not just one way to build an all-inclusive advising culture that aims to reach not only every demographic and academic segment, but also across psychographic and behavioral segments that can be defined in one way by a student’s “readiness”.

Shifting advising targets to serve the entire pipeline (sometimes also referred to as a “funnel”, see diagram below) means clearly defining advising roles & responsibilities, creating a strategy & plan that includes serving early-stage students, and implementing systems to track interest and engage students prior to an application. 

If the education abroad office accepts that their core mission is to help every student make an informed choice about education abroad opportunities, the most important metric of success is not the number of applications and participants, but the number of students who were reached.

     The message of "Apply Now" as a primary (or sole) call to action excludes key populations of interested students from starting the education abroad process.
     Growth in education abroad (as in all industries) relies on cultivating the entire funnel, and not just focusing on people close to the 'conversion point' (i.e. submitting an application)
     Create a marketing and advising strategy to engage the "just curious", first-year, and unsure student. Resource that strategy with new and/or updated technology systems and cross-departmental collaboration.

Samantha is the CEO and founder of Via TRM, next generation software for education abroad. Previously, she developed & facilitated online courses for students and staff and worked as a Study Abroad Advisor at SUNY New Paltz and as a Program Coordinator at IEP at Jacksonville University. Samantha completed an MA in peace and conflict studies from the University of Ulster in Derry, Northern Ireland on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. Her original inspiration for starting a career in international education was a semester study abroad program in Cyprus on a Gilman Scholarship. 

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