Show me: Students want evidence their degree will lead to success

As we recently reported, a recent Hobson’s survey found that prospective international students are not looking primarily for proof of student satisfaction when they assess their options for post-secondary schooling abroad.

Rather, graduate outcomes are a key factor in their decision-making. It makes sense. As we noted when we reported Hobson’s finding that prospective students are looking for proof of graduate success:

“Their decision-making is long-term in orientation. They are pursuing a degree not only for the sake of an education, but also for the sake of the rest of their lives.”

Students have to think strategically about their education: in many countries across the world, one or all of the following trends is occurring:

At high-level higher education conferences in key destination markets worldwide, the question of how to define and measure student success is being discussed. Today’s article will look at one such discussion (in Canada) and then point to concrete best practices in marketing and recruitment institutions and agents can use to leverage the success of their graduates.

What is student success?

One measure of student success is completion rates – that is, the proportion of students who stay the course and achieve their intended degrees or other credentials. As we have explored in earlier posts, completion rates are important to track and analyse and part of a broader field of indicators that inform retention and admissions processes.

But there is new debate about whether completion rates are the strongest points to lead with in recruitment marketing. At a higher education research symposium in Canada hosted by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in late-2013, stakeholders from universities, colleges, and the provincial government moved beyond completion rates to consider how researchers should define and measure student success.

One of the more interesting findings came from Canada’s college sector – that is, community colleges and institutions offering vocational training as well as applied programmes in a broad range of subject areas. Trent University’s Professor Torben Drewes presented 2011 National Household Survey findings showing that the salaries of college graduates are 61% higher than their counterparts who only hold a high school diploma.

In addition, as University World News points out:

“ … notions of success are often linked to student employment. College programming is designed with employers in mind and industry stakeholders provide information on both their employment needs and satisfaction with recent graduates.”

The Canadian college sector, like vocational and advanced skills sectors in many parts of the world, is steadily gaining ground as an alternative to traditional university education. In this sense, such programming can be viewed as a leading-edge indicator of what students are looking for in an education.

In some of the major study abroad markets, like China and India, whose economies are both expanding and changing in terms of their orientation (e.g., away from manufacturing to more knowledge-economy sectors), students are most definitely looking at this proposition:

Student success = ability to get a desired job due to degree/credentials.

More and more, students are looking for indications that their programme of study is integrated with the world of work in which they will be searching for jobs. And in turn, employers are looking for graduates from institutions that reflect a “real-world” focus – sometimes even via direct partnerships with them.

With this in mind, we move on to tips and references to past ICEF Monitor articles that can help educators and agents leverage students’ new sense of what success means.

If student success = student gets desired job …

A concept of student success that prioritises jobs says a lot about what to lead with in marketing campaigns and recruitment strategies with prospective international students. It also says a lot about institutional programming and the need to incorporate industry/professional participation into it.

To the extent that your programme is linked to relevant industry/professional groups, this is definitely something to emphasise in institutional marketing campaigns.

For more on the rising demand for internships among both students and employers, please see our earlier posts on the subject:

• “Is employer engagement in education the next source of competitive advantage?;
• “Internships an increasingly popular gateway to career and immigration opportunities;
• “Well-designed internships look like the new competitive advantage.

Students look to alumni to gauge success

As important as it is for institutions to trumpet their own metrics regarding student success, prospective students will also want to hear the story from their peer group – from current students and alumni.

It is very much in institutions’ interest to make it as easy as possible for:

  1. Prospective international students to get in touch with successful international alumni;
  2. International alumni to broadcast their stories of success for all – especially prospective students – to see and/or hear.

The following are recent ICEF Monitor posts that provide guidance regarding leveraging the power of alumni as a way to demonstrate student success:

The OISE symposium and the posts we’ve referenced above all highlight the importance of gathering information on graduate employment and making it a prominent aspect of communications with prospective students. They also point to the importance of employer linkages and practical work experience (e.g., internships or practicums) in educational programmes, as well as help that alumni can provide in marketing.

These are the building blocks of establishing and communicating a stronger case for graduate outcomes at institutions and schools. And they are increasingly some of the cues that prospective students are looking for in evaluating how a school and programme might help them achieve their goals and dreams for the future.



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