Competition for students is increasing in higher education. So institutions are experimenting with innovative pricing models to attract their ideal students. Many schools began by making online programs available at in-state tuition rates for out-of-state students.
This policy eventually led a few institutions to offer a flat rate to both in-state and out-of-state students. One university has extrapolated that idea in a way that has extended its global reach and diversified its campus culture.
Eastern Michigan University (EMU), a regional comprehensive university of about 20,000 students, first made tuition rates the same for in-state and out-of-state students. Now, they have included international students at the same rate.
We invited Dr. James Smith, President of Eastern Michigan University, to come on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss how they’re looking to stay competitive with international recruitment in a politically challenging market with their TRUEMU global rate tuition plan.
Recruiting International Students in Today’s Political Climate
EMU’s leadership believes the workplace is global; their campus needs to be international; and their students need to have friends, colleagues, and others from around the globe during the college experience.
Graduates are heading off to work in a global environment, and they need global connections and interconnections. Creating those connections in the current political climate required an aggressive strategy.
“We thought it was best to say, ‘Let’s make this simple. If you live in Alabama, you pay the same amount that you do if you live in Michigan. If you live in Arkansas, you pay the same amount as you do if you live in Michigan. If you live in Kazakhstan, you pay the same amount as you do if you live in Michigan,” Dr. Smith said.
Many other institutions focus their strategy on being a premium quality institution that students want to be part of. Those schools index their numbers very differently than EMU does.
EMU adopted the hashtag #YouAreWelcomeHere as part of its international student creative campaign.
“We don’t only believe this in a marketing sense, we believe it in a budgeting sense and the financial sense of the university overall,” Dr Smith told us. “We were really focused on globalization and fitting with the work that we’ve done.”
To keep seeing the cultural changes that an influx of international students create, the school wanted to double its international student enrollment from 1,000 to 2,000. This aggressive pricing strategy was one way to do that.
Responding to Critics of the In-State Price Match for International Students
How does EMU respond to critics who say out-of-state and international students are receiving the same tuition benefits as in-state students who come from state-tax paying households?
First, in the late 1970s, states like Michigan and Ohio and Indiana were paying about 78 percent of the overall cost to educate an undergraduate student. The student actually paid 20-25 percent. That’s flipped on its head.
As Dr. Smith told us, “The vast majority of the money coming to us very consequentially is coming from the student. Not inconsequential is the money coming from the state. So that divide is not as great as it once was.”
Second, EMU maintains a seat capacity in a number of our undergraduate programs. So the school is not opening up new sections just because it has students from across the country or around the globe.
“We’re actually maximizing the seat capacity that we have,” Dr Smith said, “certainly in defined majors, and we want to continue to do that.”
Next Steps for Institutions Interested in Improving International Recruitment
Do strong analysis.
“We didn’t walk into this with the notion that we can make this decision in a few days or a few weeks,” Dr. Smith told us. “We spent the better part of a year looking at the cost and looking at the opportunities, and as our CFO would say, the lost opportunity cost of not doing this.”
If your institution has international student interest and demand, make the process of getting to campus as welcoming as possible for those students.
Of course, EMU’s pricing structure may not make sense for all colleges or universities. EMU is located less than 30 minutes from Detroit’s airport, which is an international hub. That accessibility to global travel is a factor in their success.
“I can’t tell another institution that this will work well for them,” Dr. Smith said. “I can only say that when we looked at it within the context of Eastern Michigan University…we felt this was all a good fit for us.”
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