All of us in the international education sector value the students we bring to campus, including their diverse backgrounds, interests, perspectives, and talents. But like in all relationships, sometimes we forget to tell our students how much we appreciate them until there’s a chance of losing them. We know from historical data that international students tend to retract interest in markets experiencing social and/or political unrest. Now is a perfect time for U.S. institutions to review what they are doing to create a welcoming environment for international students. Here are three ways your institution can take the lead in creating a welcoming and diverse campus community.
Share Your Message
Universities across the country are tackling the idea of acceptance in different ways. Temple University made a video with messages for international students from current students, faculty and staff to express their campus’s welcoming nature. Dozens of other universities have joined this national campaign, which rallies around the hashtag #YouAreWelcomeHere. If your institution can take part in spreading this message, please do so. There is a definite power in numbers, and this is an issue where our many universities can work as allies, not competitors.
Be Ready, Be Steady
Studying overseas is daunting enough without throwing political and social uncertainty into the mix. Now more than ever, your advisors should be on call around the clock to hear students’ concerns, manage their objections, and be compassionate about their fears. Simply being available shows your commitment to your international population, and they will be reassured by the ease of communicating with your staff.
You will need to be the rock for your prospects. Recognize the challenges of the current climate and address them, but don’t get bogged down in the negative. There is a tremendous opportunity here to illustrate the fundamentally welcoming nature of your institution and the underlying integrity of promoting international education. Your efforts to create engagement and a welcoming atmosphere might be the thing that convinces them to pursue their education in the United States—and at your school specifically.
Commit to Action
Big-picture projects like #YouAreWelcomeHere are fantastic, but they are no substitute for ongoing support. Here are some practical, hands-on things your international prospects and enrolled students need from you:
- A commitment from the president to the internationalization of the university.
- A welcome message from your current students.
- A reassurance of your safety record on campus.
- An “open door” invitation to help with the visa process.
- An offer to have an English language or native tongue session with their parents, friends, and family reinforcing your commitment to their child’s education in a safe and prosperous atmosphere.
- A reconfirmation your institution’s value proposition in terms of quality, academic staff, employment, and salary outcomes.
How many of these are currently happening at your institution? Which ones can you add in the short or long term to make your international students feel more welcome? Make a plan and get started!