Since its creation last June, the International Office has adopted a new approach to recruiting students from other countries.
Instead of online recruitment, three International Office employees have each taken multiple recruiting trips around the world to countries like Nepal, Germany, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and India.
Susan Hackemer, director of the International Office, said the trips became a priority after research was done on the best way to reach students.
“The university has never done anything but tiny little things in terms of like online presence and that kind of thing,” she said. “And so the research that we did we just pretty compelling, that relationships still matter.”
Patrick Morrison, assistant director of the International Office, said waiting for students to reach out to the university “wasn’t really best practice” to lure in students from abroad.
Name recognition is one of the biggest challenges the university faces in trying to recruit international students, Hackemer said.
“It’s not even name recognition the University of South Dakota, it’s (name recognition of) South Dakota,” she said.
The problem of name recognition is challenging internationally because South Dakota is one of 50 states, Hackemer said. While a lot of people around the world don’t know all 50 states, USD’s price point sets it apart from colleges in the others.
“The cost is incredibly competitive, we’re the most affordable flagship university in the U.S. according to the College Board,” Morrison said. “So that’s a big draw for a lot of students that they can get a flagship value.”
Hackemer said going to markets with USD’s price point might help with recognition, but the office still wants to focus on a variety of areas.
“The aim is not simply to increase the number of international students,” she said. “This mission is to introduce students to us, but to introduce domestic students to students from all over the world.”
One USD international student, Zbynek Surovec is a strategic communication major at USD.
Surovec, a first-year, was an exchange student at Tripp-Delmont high school in South Dakota before he decided he wanted to study at an American university. He said he originally didn’t want to leave, but it was a family tradition.
“All of the younger generation (of my family) went to high school in America and it was my turn and I didn’t want (to) because I had a girlfriend. I had a motorbike and a job back home. It was like my prime time and I didn’t really want to leave my comfort zone,” he said. “But then one month before my departure I was pumped because I thought it would change something and it did.”
After attending an American high school Surovec knew he favored American education to Czech education.
“The people there (in Czech) are not so positive, not so helpful,” he said.
Even after going through two host families before finally finding a good fit, Surovec decided he wanted to come back to the U.S. to attend college.
“The moment I knew I wanted to study in America is when everybody was picking a college in Czech… The experience is usually that they stress about it, join college in Czech and then after about half of they year they are done because they can’t handle it,” Surovec said. “They don’t know what to study or it’s too hard. But I knew what I wanted and I knew it was better here.”
Surovec looked at a couple of universities in the United States and emailed the USD international department, which told him to take the ACT and apply.
“I was supposed to study for finals back in my country, but pretty much the whole spring I spent studying for the ACT,” he said.
After deciding what he wanted to do for a career, Surovec decided on USD.
“I was thinking about community college but I wanted the on-campus experience and USD had the program I wanted, I wanted to go for photography originally,” he said.
The International Office hopes to bring in more students like Surovec.
Hackemer said while name recognition is important, the main goal of their recruiting trips is to build relationships with local advisors.
“A lot of this is building a relationship with people who can share our name with students regularly. So one of the groups we chose to focus on is Education USA so it’s really good to go in country and meet the advisors that sit in their offices that do the advising of students who want to study in the United States…” she said. “People remember you if they have met you because there are 4,000 universities in the United States and a large percentage of those are recruiting international students.”
While the International Office faculty started these efforts this last fall, significant results aren’t expected to happen for another three years.
“In the industry, they say it takes three years,” Hackemer said. “So this is really our first year… so hopefully by the fall of ‘19. We know for a fact our inquiries are up astronomically.”
Morrison said the growing interest is encouraging.
“We have 245 international students right now. Five years ago I think we had a third of that or half that,” he said. “A lot of students I talked to were juniors. But we’re already seeing a growing interest.”