Guest blogger Steve Thompson explains how the pandemic negatively affected international student enrollment and offers suggestions for simplifying and streamlining payments to reverse this trend.
As students returned home in 2020 during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, institutions quickly adapted to new curriculum delivery methods. However, other activities, such as recruitment, were slower to respond because the process of attracting new students often relied on in-person events.
Meanwhile, consumer behaviors were starting to shift with an overall decline in discretionary spending and an increased reliance on digital connectivity. As a McKinsey article at the time noted, Google searches for “data plan upgrade” increased fourfold. For universities, providing a better online experience became the difference in retaining students and losing those who decided to postpone or stop their studies.
Now, more than a year after the world was thrust into its new normal, students are expecting better online experiences, including streamlined application processes and online services. With that, there is also an expectation of simple ways to pay tuition and fees, especially for international students.
Streamlined online services lead to student satisfaction
By providing a streamlined international payment experience with no fees, U.S. universities can remain attractive to international students and their parents, who might be the ones making the payment. International payment providers, like TransferMate, integrate with payment solutions, like TouchNet, to allow students to make international payments on one online platform and without international wire fees.
International payment providers offer competitive foreign exchange rates and allow students to pay in their local currency, which often result in faster payments than traditional banking. TransferMate, for example, also offers 24/7 multilingual support on multiple channels, and customer service calls every new student who registers. Communicating with and supporting students on the platforms they are already using, such as social media, can increase positive outcomes and is key to attracting new students going forward in 2021.
In fact, another McKinsey survey found that Chinese consumers spend 33 percent of their total online time on social media. International payments providers are starting to implement customer service and payment capabilities on social platforms such as WeChat, taking the workload off the universities.
Recapturing the international student market
New international student enrollment has been on the decline since the 2015-16 school year, with total enrollment dropping significantly in 2017-18, according to data from the Institute of International Education. While the pandemic certainly made the situation worse, universities were already fighting declining enrollment.
In the fall of 2020, U.S. colleges experienced a 43 percent drop in new international student enrollment, which included international students in the United States and those studying online outside of the country. Total international student enrollment decreased 16 percent for the fall of 2020 compared to the fall of 2019. The pandemic also led to more of the international students who did enroll studying online. One in five students surveyed reported they were studying online from abroad for the fall 2020 semester.
While it is now harder for universities to attract the international student population, there are simple processes universities can put in place to make their student experience easier. The majority (82 percent) of universities surveyed by the Institute of International Education said they were increasing virtual recruitment through online events and class visits. Providing simple international payments also helps. It not only influences students, but it also makes it easier on parents who may be covering the cost. In China in particular, 43 percent of overseas study decisions are made by the whole family. Providing seamless technology-based payment solutions that are not overly complicated allows universities to attract students and their potentially less tech-savvy parents.
The year ahead for higher education still may pose some new and continued challenges when it comes to bringing international students back to campus. But by focusing on delivering a simple and secure digital payment experience, universities can improve the processes to make a positive impact on retention and attraction.