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Report: U.S. Schools Do Lousy Job of Recruiting International Students

One out of five colleges and universities in the United States and Canada never respond to students from other countries who inquire about admission. Of those that do, four out of five times, they don't bother following up after that first contact. A third of institutional Web sites fail to pass the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, which makes it difficult for prospective international students to find the information they're looking for on their mobile devices as they shop for a North American school.

In 2014 4.5 million students were "globally mobile." A new research project by StudyPortals and the British Council took a "mystery shopper" approach to understand just how well 974 institutions around the world help those students find the information they need to make a decision about where to study. Fifty-two percent of the schools are in North America; 30 percent are in Europe; and the remainder is in other regions. All of the institutions referenced in the top 100 of the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings were included.

A team of international students explored Web sites to evaluate home pages and selected program pages and also contacted the institutions with a specific set of questions. The research team analyzed and rated 40 different data points about each university in terms of online information provided, "findability," inquiry response and follow-up rate. For example, findability looked at site ranking, listing in search platforms, social media follower counts, testimonials and videos. Information and usability examined ease of finding specific information, clear calls to action, mobile friendliness and conversion optimization. Responsiveness looked at options for making contact, response speed and quality and the application process.

"World's Top Universities through Student Eyes" offers a snapshot of results:

  • Program accreditation is missing from one in three programs;
  • Study program duration and program start date aren't referenced in one in five programs;
  • The scores for U.S. and Canadian schools don't vary by type of university — private or public; and
  • While information about degree type and level were the easiest to locate online, the most difficult to find were accreditation, duration and start date.

The report recommended that schools address the information needs of international students by providing information on study accreditation, program start dates and estimated study duration. "While these aspects may be obvious for domestic students who learn about universities from peers, high school guidance counselors or the news, international students mostly need to rely on the university's Web site for such information," the report's authors wrote.

Also, email follow-up needs to be improved since students often have to pay an application fee and may use email to make sure they have the information needed for a successful application. "Ensuring that these emails are properly answered and that universities follow up with students who are clearly interested in submitting an application is therefore very important," the report noted.

The two organizations said they would be sending each institution included in the study a personalized report.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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