By Jeff Charis-Carlson, Iowa City Press-Citizen
International education organizations are taking notice of Iowa's efforts to attract larger and more diverse student bodies by recruiting and responding to prospective international students.
A recent report, "Through Student Eyes," ranked Iowa as the No. 5 state in the nation in terms of communicating and serving prospective international students online.
University of Iowa alumni meet up for dinner in Beijing, China
The report — produced by the online comparison tool StudyPortals in collaboration with the British Council, a British educational organization — looked at the top 1,000 universities worldwide and ranked the schools' responsiveness to prospective international students online through a mystery shopper exercise.
Iowa scored 60.70 out of 100 points in the survey, ranking behind Washington, Michigan, Missouri and Oregon.
"Each university has its own way of presenting this kind of information," Carmen Neghina, the lead education intelligence specialist on the report, wrote in an email to the Press-Citizen. "And they sometimes even have conflicting information depending on whether you look at the program admission page, or the university's main recruitment page (different [deadlines], different English language requirements, etc.)."
With 11,318 students in the state, Iowa is ranked No. 22 for international students enrollment in the nation, according to the Institute of International Education's 2014 Open Doors report. The institute estimates that those students contribute more than $317 million to the state economy.
The five schools surveyed in Iowa included the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa, Drake University and Kirkwood Community College.
The study also considered the time universities took to reply to student inquiries and follow-up emails sent by the universities. The email reply rate for Iowa schools was 8 out of 10, Neghina said, with only two schools offering follow-up emails.
The report broke down the data by region, country and state, but not by individual school.
UI's goal is to provide a reply within 48 hours of receiving any request for more information about the university, said Becky Hanson, associate director of international outreach and recruitment.
Here are the number of international students enrolled during the 2014-15 school year at the five colleges and universities included in the recent "Through Student Eyes" study produced by StudyPortals and the British Council:
- University of Iowa: 4,360
- Iowa State University: 3,980
- University of Northern Iowa: 626
- Kirkwood Community College: 356
- Drake University: 343
"Two years ago, we added Renren, Weibo and WeChat accounts, which are managed primarily by designated staff housed in Internationals Programs," Hanson said. "This was specifically designed for our large Chinese audience. We wanted the ability to reach them, since Facebook is not allowed."
ISU's responsiveness to potential international students became more effective a few years ago when the university brought its Customer Relationship Management software online, said Patricia Parker, associate director of admissions at ISU.
"We have always tried to respond to email inquiries as quickly as possible, and to provide them with not only the information requested, but also resources for obtaining additional information," Parker said. "With the CRM, however, we are able to follow up with multiple contacts rather than just one general one, so I think they stay more engaged with the university.
Although Iowa ranked well among the 50 states, the U.S. and Canada didn't fare so well as a region — lagging behind Scandinavian countries, Australia/New Zealand as well as the UK/Ireland.
"The findings suggest that there is a lot of capacity for U.S. colleges and universities to improve upon when it comes to engaging online with prospective international students," the report states.