Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of talk about US students coming to Canada. NBC ran a segment on Americans at McGill, and the Globe and Mail ran a piece on the same. This seems to have led many institutions to start thinking “hot damn, another market! How can we grab us some of these Americans?”
But for most institutions, this would be the wrong reaction. Before venturing into a market, every school needs to ask itself two questions. Why would Americans want to go to your school? And why does your school want Americans?
Before a school starts recruiting in the US (any new market, really), some self-reflection is in order. What, exactly, does my school offer an American that they can’t get at home? “Cheap” isn’t good enough; Mexican universities are cheap but you don’t see American undergraduates flocking there (they weren’t flocking over our border when the dollar was at 62 cents, either). There has to be a value proposition.
In fact, there are maybe a dozen schools in Canada that offer a mix of price and quality that make them attractive to parts of the US student population. Students wishing to go to out-of-state flagship schools – say, Illinois or Virginia – can get similar product at a lower price in a better venue by going to McGill, Toronto or UBC (Queen’s would have a shot here, too; at a stretch, so would Alberta). Students with their hearts set on a liberal arts education but who can’t get into any of the Tier I Liberal Arts Colleges in the US would consider St. FX, Acadia, Mount Allison or Bishop’s. Windsor has a shot due to proximity. For everybody else, it’s going to be a much harder sell.
Which brings us to that second question about “why Americans”: to the extent that international students are revenue sources, it’s important that they be cheap to recruit, so as to maximize net revenue. If you’re not one of the above-mentioned institutions with a clear-cut value proposition, chances are that American students will be difficult and expensive to recruit. So why spend money chasing after them instead of, say, Korean students, when they all bring in the same amount of revenue? You might of course just want American students because of the mix of experiences they bring to campus. That’s fine – but you need to put a price tag on what that’s worth and limit your recruitment efforts accordingly.
In recruitment, every dollar is precious. Institutions need to know their strengths and value propositions, and not chase every new market just because it’s new.