Streamlining the international admissions process for community colleges

Three best practices for removing barriers and improving international student admissions results
By: | March 3, 2020
(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)
Travis Ulrich is managing director of Terra Dotta.

Travis Ulrich is managing director of Terra Dotta.

American universities and colleges benefit from diversifying their populations with international students, broadening their constituents’ perspectives and enriching their campuses with contributions from global citizens.

Economics is also a strong factor—particularly for community colleges where annual tuition can be up to six times higher for international versus domestic students. As a result, international students contribute not only to the cultural fabric of the institutions, but also to the overall economic well-being of the institutions.

However, many schools are struggling with declining international enrollments due to multiple factors, including current immigration dynamics, steep competition with other institutions (both domestic and abroad) and reduced student-grant funding from foreign governments.

To maximize the opportunities to serve the international student population, community colleges must consider competitive strategies to ensure they are well positioned to consistently attract and retain such students. Delays and added hurdles to an already complex process can be frustrating for students.

By streamlining international admissions through more efficient processes and technology automation, institutions can ease the admissions application process and, post-acceptance, help students navigate complex immigration procedures.

By streamlining international admissions through more efficient processes and technology automation, institutions can ease the admissions application process and, post-acceptance, help students navigate complex immigration procedures.

Once admitted, the institution must submit each applicant’s data to the federal government’s SEVIS system to quickly secure Form I-20, the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Once the student obtains Form I-20, they may proceed with applying for a student visa (F-1) for entry into the United States. Completing this process quickly is integral to successfully onboarding and enrolling the student. Here are three best practices for community colleges to help remove barriers and improve international student admissions results.

1. Automate international enrollment steps

Some institutions still rely on a paper-based international application process. Others may have some automation, but must enter some data manually to move each application to the next of many steps.

Los Angeles area-based Citrus College has executed a paperless policy for its international student admissions process and successfully integrated and aligned its data for quicker international applications processing, for instance. In addition, leaders used technology to automate various steps and requests for student biographic, demographic and academic information, including engaging directly with students via email alerts and more frequent communication touchpoints.


Read: Troubling trends taint record high for international students


The result: The institution’s leaders have been able to execute a streamlined process for international students to submit requirements, lowering stress and improving clarity for both students and admissions officers. They can now track where each applicant is in their application and enrollment process, as well as monitor and communicate with applicants about key benchmarks leading up to their arrival on campus.

2. Differentiate the international student applications process

Even if community colleges have moved to an automated application and enrollment process, many use the same process for both domestic and international students. This often creates bottlenecks because the international student process can differ significantly, given their specific credential evaluation, English language proficiency and visa requirements.

As a result, prospective students may fill out an online application form, but then be placed in a holding pattern, awaiting manual requests for SEVIS-related immigration information, international credentials or additional academic background information. This delay can cause student frustration. A customized application, for example, can focus on the required international student applicant data, in which students can provide all information online and automatically receive confirmations and prompts to keep the process moving forward in a timely manner.


Read: How colleges are responding to the drop in Chinese enrollment


3. Track international partnership progress

Many community colleges are taking a page from four-year institutions by investing more in international student recruiting to help boost their application numbers and ultimately increase their yield of students who matriculate. Automating the agreements management process can help institutions monitor all current international recruitment partnerships across the world, identify new partnership opportunities, and evaluate which current agreements are yielding the most qualified student applications for various degree programs.

With this approach, community colleges can more clearly understand which recruitment activities are most effective for engaging potential students, and then determine whether to expand or scale back on certain programs. For example, particular agencies in certain regions may be especially effective in recruiting students for community college programs in specialized areas of study.

Automating the application and onboarding process can help community colleges move the needle in more quickly securing I-20s and welcoming more international students onto their campuses.


Travis Ulrich is managing director of Terra Dotta.