International Graduate Enrollment Is Falling — What Do You Do?

A recent report by the National Science Foundation offered more troubling news for U.S. graduate schools that are recruiting international students.

According to its report, “Science and Engineering Indicators 2018,” the number of international students in the U.S. fell by 5.5 percent at the graduate level from fall 2016 to 2017. This is a big deal … because about a quarter of U.S. graduate school enrollment overall consists of international students.

“The declines come on the heels of years of steady growth … in overall international enrollments at U.S. universities and amid widespread concern that prospective new students could be deterred by the current political climate and uncertainty about immigration policies in the United States,” wrote Elizabeth Redden in Inside Higher Ed. “The declines, if they were to continue, could have negative implications for U.S. competitiveness and the health of American graduate science and engineering programs, which are heavily populated by international students.”

Thirty-six percent of all science and engineering graduate students in the U.S. were international students in 2015. Students from abroad received more than half of all doctoral degrees awarded in computer science, economics, engineering, and mathematics and statistics.

This past summer, Capture Higher Ed’s Amanda Scott and Jack Klett talked extensively about the political and economic climate contributing to the decline in international enrollment during their webinar, Capture Webinar: Graduate Recruitment Strategies That Make the Dean’s List. (Skip ahead to the 15:30 mark to hear their discussion on international students.)

Marketing Automation and the International Student

Several of Capture Higher Ed’s clients have started using Capture Behavioral Engagement (CBE), our powerful and unique marketing automation for higher education, to target international recruits.

For example, a small private university on the West Coast wanted to expand its reach and increase its international student population. The school used the ideal combination of CBE and retargeted ads to drive anonymous and identified international students back to certain pages where they were then served content that pertained to their previous search.

By doing this, the school was able to keep its brand in front prospective students and offer them information they needed in real-time.

The retargeting involved sending customized ads to those international students who visited the school’s website in the recent past. These ads reminded a prospect to complete an action, for example, filling out an application for admission or signing up for a visit.

This multi-channel approach allowed the university to customize ads to students — in this case to appeal to an international audience segment, again, stimulating brand awareness and engaging the student one-on-one.

Solution At Work 

During the campaign, a South Korean student — who had visited the school’s website previously — clicked on a retargeted ad from the university. The ad took her to the “Financial Aid and Scholarships” page of the school’s website.

International Students

During that visit back to the website, the student ended up inquiring, creating an account and starting an application. Within two months, she had completed the application process and was admitted to the school. Would she have made her way back into the process without the retargeted ad?

Maybe. Maybe not.


Out of the 756 international students Capture tracked on the university’s website, 158 (21 percent) went on to apply; 96 of those students (61 percent) deposited.

With so many forces making enrolling international students more difficult, graduate schools need to get creative and modern in their recruiting practices. Capture has the tools to help them do that.

By Kevin Hyde, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed