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The Big Reset: Recruitment Trends In Higher Education After The Pandemic

Trends in higher education marketing.jpg

In a highly competitive global education market where students have become more conscious of how they approach their study abroad experience, educational institutions are looking into ways on how to improve and enhance their higher education recruitment.

Key Points at a Glance


  • Higher education is experiencing a growing diversity in terms of student race and age.
  • However, COVID-19 has greatly affected the international education sector.
  • Higher education institution recruitment strategies can only go as far as government policies allow them to. 
  • The post-COVID 19 student needs financial and career security. Traditional means of international student recruitment may need to be refreshed..


One highlight of the booming international education sector can be seen with the growing diversity in higher education. According to a report by the American Council on Education, students of color in the U.S. made up only 29.6 percent of the total number of undergraduates in 1996. In 2016, this number jumped to 45.2 percent. The representation of graduate students of color also increased during the same period from 20.8 to 32 percent.

National center for education statistics, American counsil on education graph

Another source for the growing diversity of students is due to the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Before this time, people identified students generally based on how old they were, usually from 18 to 24 years old. By 2011, older people realized the importance of earning a college education to be able to chart a more stable career. Some of these people enrolled in colleges and universities to reskill or upskill. Now, there are students who are considered traditional students and those who are considered non-traditional students.

However, in spite of the healthy growth in recent years, COVID-19 has greatly affected the international student market with all the health and safety and travel restrictions. This also highlights the role of different countries and their policymakers to draft laws and regulations that are in line with the student recruitment strategies of higher education institutions.

According to a 2019 report by the Institute of International Education, more than half (51 percent) of higher education institutions in the U.S. experienced a decrease in international student enrollment. There are several reasons for this ranging from the high cost of higher education tuition in the U.S. to the shifting political climate. In 2015, the U.S. was considered as the top country which offers the highest annual tuition for international students at $24,914.

This is good news for countries like Canada, China, and Australia. Australia reported a 47 percent increase in international student enrollment from 2015 to 2018. China is a huge competitor with its annual tuition for international students only at $3,844 (2015). Canada very recently announced that it is easing COVID-19 travel restrictions, and this is set to benefit international students.

When it comes to current trends in higher education marketing or trends in college admissions, it can be seen that it is not merely enough for institutions to form, implement, and enforce student recruitment strategies for higher education. The effectiveness of their higher education recruitment strategies greatly depends on their governments’ policies as well.

In terms of a post-COVID international education sector, all the past trends now have questionable trajectories. From a sales and marketing perspective, the international education market is reset and every institution has the opportunity to have a first-mover advantage.

Globally recognized institutions, such as the Ivy League schools in the U.S., are the types of institutions that rely on their brand to attract international students. With the challenges earlier mentioned, it may take more work than usual for these schools to attract a high number of students. Other institutions around the world may stand to benefit from entering into strategic partnerships with other institutions. The benefits may range from being a part of a global consortium or being interlinked with study centres all over the world through a pathways program.

Traditional means of international student recruitment—like holding trade fairs or promoting the presence of education recruitment agents in the area—may be far less effective than these were in the past. In response, higher education institutions should take this opportunity to introduce their heritage and culture through consistent branding online, and take a more committed approach to communicating and understanding their potential new students and their parents.

For recruiting non-traditional students, the approach can be similar but be wider in extent. “Universities have experienced the greatest success from public service announcements,” stated a study which also recommends releasing content in other languages. Providing financial, social, and academic support also goes a long way.

Remembering the possibility of how the education market may be like after the pandemic, both traditional and non-traditional students may greatly consider factors of financial and career security, and how flexible an institution is willing to present these, when deciding where to study.

Data sources:

College Students Are More Diverse Than Ever. Faculty and Administrators Are Not (2019, March). Association of American Colleges & Universities. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/aacu-news/newsletter/2019/march/facts-figures#:~:text=In%20207%2C%20the%20population%20was,Hawaiian%20or%20other%20Pacific%20Islander.

Carnevale, A. (2012, August 15) The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm. Georgetown University. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CollegeAdvantage.FullReport.081512.pdf

Challenge or Opportunity? 2021 International student marketing for the USA. IDP Connect. Retrieved from https://www.idp-connect.com/usa/articles/education-marketing/challenge-or-opportunity-2021-international-student-marketing-for-the-usa

McCarthy, N. (2015, July 28) Where Foreign Students Face The Highest University Fees. Statista. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/chart/3673/where-foreign-students-face-the-highest-university-fees/

Bhaduri, A. (2021, July 5) Canada to ease travel restrictions for citizens, international students. All you need to know. Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/canada-to-ease-travel-restrictions-for-citizens-international-students-all-you-need-to-know-101625481986956.html

Strategic Alliances. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/strategic-alliances/

MSM Higher Ed Pathway. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/pathways/

Cortez, J. Effective Higher Education Recruitment Strategies Findings from a Research Study of San Antonio College. Intercultural Development Research Association. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED484955.pdf


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