International Recruitment: How it Happens, Why it Matters

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International students make up 13% of the DePauw student body, with China alone coming in third for student population – after Indiana and Illinois and greater than Ohio and Missouri. Yet the Marketing and Communications Department spends zero dollars on global advertisement. 

How are international students able to find DePauw? The answer may lie in the hard work and enthusiasm of the international admissions counselor who has poured his energy into this position for the past 12 years.

Before this semester, when DePauw hired a second international admissions counselor, Loutfi Jirari did all of the work as Associate Dean of Academic Life and Directory of International Recruitment. Hiring an additional admissions counselor puts the school on par with other small liberal arts universities in DePauw’s conference.

Every year, Jirari spends a month or two traveling around the world hosting workshops, connecting with alumni and potential students, and building connections within the communities he visits. “Whenever I travel, I reach out to allumns and they are extremely helpful. They’re really our best sellers because they’re authentic and it’s not the staff member for the university. They’ve lived it and they are super passionate” Jirari said.

Recruiting internationally brings a unique set of challenges, specifically for liberal arts universities. “Right now, I would say specifically in China they understand the liberal arts model, but that was not the case 6 or 7 years ago,” Jirari says. This was initially surrounded with misconceptions, with many international students hearing the term “liberal arts” and assuming that schools such as DePauw do not offer courses in math and science. DePauw and other liberal arts universities visiting high schools abroad have helped introduce the model and there are a variety of ways that liberal arts universities recruit internationally. 

Some join tour operators who search for students on the university’s behalf, while others might search for students by relying on their University’s name recognition. Jirari instead focuses on building lasting relationships with high schools abroad. “We do this with boots on the ground, traveling, visiting high schools, getting to know different teachers and counselors, and giving presentations to students and parents,” Jirari said. 

And it worked. The international student fraction to DePauw’s total enrollment has more than quadrupled from 2.9% in 2007 to 13.5% in 2019.

But the meticulous recruitment efforts requires more resources. As much as the lack of sufficient global marketing budgets like Jirari faces, understaffing has become a common issue among international admission offices at small private colleges including DePauw.

Out of 27 colleges that belong to either Great Lakes Colleges Association or Associated Colleges of the Midwest, 16 have only one admission staff member dedicated to international recruitment, just like DePauw before April Johnson, the newly joined second international recruiter.

A simple analysis with the data obtained on the National Center for Education Statistics website indicates the shortage of international admission staff

 in some private colleges. Taking the total international population in Fall 2018 divided by four as a hypothetical first-year international enrollment, the sole international recruiter at Oberlin College (OH) might have dealt with around 82 students from overseas by herself. Likewise, the ones in charge at Grinnell College (IA) and St. Olaf College (MN) may have taken care of 81 and 78 international students, respectively.

The situation has been similar for DePauw’s Loutfi Jirari. In fact, in Fall 2018, he welcomed over 70 international students for the class of 2022. These numbers are only concerning students who were admitted and then decide to enter DePauw. Besides those, admission staff must manage a much greater pool of applicants from overseas.

The average of the hypothetical international students per assigned staff across 27 colleges was 34. The reason for the number is not only because of fewer international enrollment in some institutions, but also as several colleges maintain ample human resources for the international segment. For example, Colorado College (CO) delegates three coordinators who look after international students in various regions from Europe to India to Latin America and else. Among those with similar sizes to DePauw, Denison University (OH), Luther College (IA) and Macalester College (MN) all have two staff for the role, too.

Although international student recruitment now makes up an essential part of the student body, there are additional struggles that admissions counselors face when visiting international territories. Thanks to the efforts of admissions counselors such as Jirari, the liberal arts education and DePauw’s credibility as an institution is gaining presence abroad.