With the pandemic waning, U.S. higher education is primed to bounce back its international student enrollment numbers after taking a 15% dip in 2020-21. As students worldwide begin flooding back, institutions face one unlikely adversary killing their enrollment potential: paper.
Like a pebble stuck in a shoe, international student advisers can spend up to 30% of their time simply on paper processing. Instead of guiding students through an exciting chapter in their lives thousands of miles away from their homeland, designated school officials (DSOs) are crammed in a sterile office room, plugging away data entries.
University of Maryland Baltimore County is mainly flooded with international applications, seeing that they went from fewer than 800 international students to about 2,400 in three years, according to Adam Julian, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars and Center for Global Engagement. With active F-1 students making up 11% of undergraduate students, UMBC has experienced a 300% international student program expansion over the last four years. “There wasn’t a direct correlation to staffing and resources that came along with that,” says Julian. Similarly, Citrus College’s (Calif.) international student program had a two-person team when its office was hit with double the rate of applications on a paper-based system.
“Universities in the U.S. in my line of work, unfortunately, become immigration processing offices,” says Julian. “That’s certainly the baseline expectation, but that’s not the expectation from the student or the campus community.”
Consequently, both institutions were leaving money on the table and burning labor. Despite all the painstakingly long hours DSO advisers would spend sifting through outdated U.S. agency websites and collecting vital academic and student biographic documents, applicants were moving on to different universities that could process their I-20s more quickly.
To combat this tidal wave of international student applications and a limited DSO office. Both of these schools have turned to a paperless batch system software to eliminate delays with mailing and allow advisers to work on more than a hundred applications simultaneously.
“We now have way more capacity to focus on yield activities for our admitted students, and it’s certainly resulted in better enrollment results. Without this service, I think the enrollment wouldn’t have grown as much as it is,” says Julian.
At Citrus College, the international student program saw file processing times reduce from weeks to hours. It’s helped eliminate data entry errors and accept student applications quicker, boosting international student enrollment. Consequently, Citrus College experienced a near-perfect international application yield and matriculation rate.
UMBC and Citrus College’s software of choice is Terra Dotta, which the University of Florida also uses to support its more than 6,000 international students yearly.
“Automating our international student services with Terra Dotta has made a big impact on our registration and advising success,” said Mary Mincer, International Student Technician and DSO for Citrus College.
Boosting DSO retention and employment
Using a batch software solution doesn’t just help colleges maximize their international student enrollment. It has also freed up DSO offices’ time to focus on the work that’s keeping them fulfilled. Instead of “pressing buttons and issuing CTP authorizations” all day, DCO advisers are working on the things that matter the most to them.
“Morale has increased. Also, just people’s fulfillment in their roles has increased,” says Julian. “We all share a common interest in international student support and immigration, but everyone has their own passion projects or strings, so being able to engage on those on some level really improves retention and morale, and it helps with professional development.”