Measuring ROI in international student recruitment

Measuring ROI in international student recruitment

This week on the EAIE blog, we will be covering the summer issue of Forum magazine. This whole issue is dedicated to data in international education. We look at how it can be and is used, as well as collected by practitioners. Further to yesterday’s blog post on a similar issue, today’s blog post looks at the role of data in measuring return on investment in international student recruitment.

At Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Tampa, Florida, there are two project managers in charge of international student recruitment. One recruits from countries that the institution has been recruiting from for several years. The other recruiter has a very different role, seeking out new territories and developing new relationships with prospective international partners. As Richard Yam, an international student adviser at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, rightfully says, in this industry, we are all told that it takes at least three years to realise any return on investment for overseas travel.[i] How can one measure Return on Investment (ROI) with two very contrasting positions? This is the daunting task that HCC has been actively trying to tackle in its Center for International Education. Previously, the recruiters at the institution evaluated the success of each recruitment trip by making their own observations on each of their recruitment activities. However, they knew that they needed to be more specific, in order to measure their success.

Purpose of evaluation

HCC came up with a solution, in order to develop measureable recruitment principles within each international student recruitment strategy. This new evaluation plan outlines a comprehensive, yet reasonable, evaluation strategy, given the constraints. Furthermore, by creating more specific metrics to evaluate return on investment, their overall recruitment plan has strengthened.

Evaluation strategy

Three new recruitment principles work as the foundation of this new evaluation strategy. First, in advance of each fiscal year recruitment cycle, recruitment managers outline their planned strategies. The recruiters draft a concise, strategic plan for each target country. Each plan includes the rationale and details on the following:

  • The number and duration of visits planned.
  • Specific locations targeted for sustained recruitment activity.
  • The optimal timing for recruitment visits taking into account school calendars, decision-making timetable for parents and their children, etc. and a one-page reference tool for each country on issues described.
  • The specific recruitment efforts planned and measureable outcomes expected.
  • The budget resources needed to execute planned recruitment activities.

Second, in advance of traveling for recruitment purposes, recruitment managers define measurable objectives for each recruitment activity planned. This helps to guide the development of day-to-day activities with in-country partners, while providing a post-trip assessment tool. Recruitment efforts may include building relationships with high school counsellors, participating in recruitment fairs, training frontline recruitment personnel at contracted agencies, visiting USA embassies or consulates, delivering parent/student forums, conducting outreach with EducationUSA offices, and exploring sister-university linkages. They create a checklist template (with space for narrative), which lists the different types of planned recruitment activities.

In the countries where they recruit, including the new territories that they are targeting, recruiters quantify the items which they can measure. For example, if attending education fairs, they record the number of institutions that also attend those fairs, the number of those schools that are also from the United States, the number of those that are community colleges, the total number of student attendees, the number of students that actually came up to the recruiter’s table and showed interest in their institution, etc. After those visits, the recruiter analyses the numbers even further, by documenting the number of students that inquire, apply, and then those who actually enrol in the institution. As recruitment managers, they study the recruitment pipeline and justify the potential for participating in those fairs again in the future.

For international agent visits or visits to international secondary schools, the recruiters measure the access that they have to students, such as the number of students attending a scheduled HCC information session. Additionally, they measure access to parents. For instance, recruiters take note if any parents attend each scheduled HCC information session. After all, most of the time, parents hold the upper hand when it comes to the final decision that their children make in selecting an international institution in which to study. The recruiters also record any one-on-one appointments that international partners or high school counsellors make for the recruiter during their visits.

Eventually, the recruitment team plans to develop rubrics for evaluating the recruitment effectiveness of each strategy. In these rubrics, they will provide descriptions of the performance associated with each possible rating, which, as Green notes, is the most effective way to make an assessment across multiple outcome opportunities.[ii]

The individual country recruitment strategies and post-trip assessments are housed in an online platform, so that all institutional stakeholders have readily access to this information. Institutional accountability, involving a concise review of collected data, is the third recruitment principle in this evaluation strategy. Recruitment managers and the Director of the Center for International Education convene quarterly meetings (at a minimum) for the purpose planning, executing, and measuring outcomes for recruitment in an integrated fashion.

Anticipated challenges

Obviously, as stated earlier, measuring ROI within the two contrasting recruitment positions at this institution proves to be the main challenge. There are conflicting needs, values, paradigms, approaches, meanings, and priorities among these two positions, based on the regions and ways in which they recruit. But, by involving all of the stakeholders at all stages, and by ethically working together to further develop the evaluation rubrics, they have been able to put this assessment strategy into motion and mitigate these limitations.


These quantifiable evaluations allow the team to consider the effectiveness of each one of their recruitment strategies. Reviewing these observations help in guiding the recruiters to formulate new action plans for future trips. Although the recruitment team at HCC is only beginning to put these numbers together to help analyse their successes, in the end, creating these specific metrics to evaluate ROI will strengthen their overall recruitment plan.

EAIE members will receive their copies of Forum on their doorsteps soon, but can already download the full version online. Non-members can view the editor’s pick in the Resources Library. Gain full access to Forum by becoming an EAIE member.

Ashley is Manager of International Student Recruitment at Hillsborough Community College, USA.


[i] Darrup-Boychuck, C. (May/June 2007). Measuring return on investment in international student recruitment. International Educator, 16(3), 64-68.

[ii] Green, M. F. (2012). Measuring and assessing internationalization. Washington, DC: NAFSA.