Jessica: Welcome and thank you for participating in our e-interview series, Brent! We are happy to have you here. I reached out to Algoma for this interview because, as an institution, you are expanding a lot in terms of international students. Can you tell me more about Algoma U's international recruitment efforts? Is Latin America a market that you foresee will be important for your growth?
Brent: We do a lot of international recruiting and global enrollment growth. Over 50 percent of our students are international. We recruit pretty heavily from South Asia, the Indian subcontinent, China, and Africa. Latin America would be our next market, I would say. So, one year away, maybe two years. It depends on how things go in our other markets. A challenge for us isn't getting the numbers. Our international enrollment is high. We get a lot of applications, lots of students. Diversity is essential to us, so that's kind of the challenge every year. That would be the reason for us to look to Latin America a year from now; not necessarily for the numbers, but to change the student mix.
Jessica: Absolutely, a lot of universities look to diversify their international student body. Canada is pretty welcoming, especially to students. There's a lot of opportunity there, which is excellent.
Talking more about current student recruitment challenges, how have strategies changed in the past year with COVID-19, and how did this affect your recruitment efforts and numbers?
Brent: It changed recruitment a lot. We used to travel frequently. Now, we haven't traveled in a year and a half. It looks like it'll be 2022 before we start traveling again. So, we've done a lot more virtual recruitment, which has been both good and bad. We saw a temporary dip in our numbers, but we've grown where we had a drop at first, where students were deferring. The demand was still there, but they were a little unsure about starting online. Visa processing was also a challenge in specific markets. Those pieces have been sorted out, and students are pretty comfortable beginning their studies online. We were predicting pretty significant enrollment growth this year from international students. We rely on in-market representatives. For us, that was a saving grace to be active in specific markets even though we can't be there ourselves.
Jessica: Amazing! I'm sure it's going to be a great year for you! Let's talk about digital marketing at Algoma. What different methodologies or tools have you started using? For example, do you use paid promotions on social media to get leads (students)? Do you rely on email marketing and nurturing? What kind of things have you implemented?
Brent: We don't do a ton of paid promotion internationally. Things like Zoom and Google Meet have become more important to us. In terms of resources, if students look for information, our website and social media are number one and two for us. We put effort into social media and the messaging that goes out. We've now got some recruitment-specific social media accounts, which we did not have before the pandemic. Before, we used to rely on the institutional account for everything, but the messaging isn't always appropriate for [recruiting] students because we talk about all sorts of things there.
So, this year, we're launching a recruitment-specific Instagram account to speak more directly to prospective students to make sure they're getting the messaging and the info they want. We found that there's so much done virtually. There's a huge need for quality content. So, that's been a little of a challenge, but we're shifting that way.
Jessica: That's great! Getting the messaging right for prospective students and having that differentiation in messaging is vital, especially now that travel and 1-1 comms are limited. What about partnering with third-party platforms, for example, companies that organize virtual fairs or lead generator companies? Has the university started teaming up with these organizations?
Brent: We've participated in some virtual affairs. They've been a bit hit or miss, I would say. In terms of lead generation, yes, we've done some in the past. Our challenge is the ability to work with the leads. We're a reasonably small team, and to get many leads, we don't always have the resources to dedicate to them financially.
Jessica: So, it sounds like you still rely more on the agents or representatives you have in the key markets.
Jessica: What are the most popular programs at Algoma U for International Students?
Brent: Computer science is our most popular program with international students. There's a lot of interest in that worldwide, and tech is big. Business is also popular. Beyond that, our biology and environmental science programs are pretty popular, as well as project management.
Jessica: I have a quick question for you regarding your two-year graduate certifications. How do international markets respond to those programs?
Brent: Those programs are designed with international markets in mind. A two-year program gets you three years if you're interested in a postgraduate work permit. So that's the reason for the length of them. And they're very appealing to people who want to take advantage of that postgraduate work permit opportunity. Our bachelor students are usually 18, and their parents support them. The graduate certificate students are generally more self-supported.
Jessica: My last question is, what are your hopes for the next recruiting cycle?
Brent: I hope it's more fun. I hope we can travel. I hope we can see people in person. It's fun to see students in person, even on campus. It's fun to have a busy campus. So that would be my hope, that we can travel again, make those connections with students and parents and have a few laughs; see the world.
Jessica:Yeah, I think everyone misses that. And also meeting these students and their families in person. Especially in Latin America, parents are crucial regarding where they're sending their kids to college. They look for trust.
Brent: Absolutely, you're not going to understand a market unless you go to it. You need to be there and talk to people, families, counselors, and agents to understand their lives and the market.
Jessica: Thank you, Brent, for joining us for this interview series. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. We are proud to see Algoma University reeling in their in-market representation and social media strategies to maintain trust and reliability in their key markets. We also hope to see them tap into the Latin American region soon to continue to diversify their international student body.
What is UniCentrico by Centrico Digital?
UniCentrico is a Canadian-Ecuadorian recruiting service and platform that helps North American universities identify and connect with prospective students from Latin America. UniCentrico uses digital marketing to help universities identify and qualify prospective students. For more information, please contact Jessica Luna, Higher Education Marketing Head at firstname.lastname@example.org.