In a tight budget environment, institutions of higher education can potentially increase their revenues and enrich the educational experience by recruiting international students. However they are often constrained by the expense of setting up an active international office. YouVisit, a technology company and a strategic consultancy helps defray these costs and create value for international students through its Virtual Campus Visit programs for colleges and universities.
The Current State Of International Students
Education and training rank among the top 10 U.S. services exports. During the 2010-2011 academic year, international students and their dependents contributed approximately $20.23 billion to the U.S. economy (NAFSA) (compare that to total service exports by the US which amounted about $52.4 billion in May 2012) Over the last 10 years, total international student enrollment has increased 32% and international students contribute $10.2 billion (pdf) more than they did in 2000-2001.
The Open Doors data shows that 63% of international students rely primarily upon personal and family funds to pay for their studies (OpenDoors, Institute of International Education). The “BIC” countries, Brazil India and China account for 37% of foreign students (TheNewRepublic), while the top three sending countries–China, India and South Korea–comprise nearly half of the total international enrollments in U.S. higher education.
Canada, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and Japan each represent about three to four percent of the total international student population, with these top seven places of origin comprising about 60 percent of the total (Open Doors).
Some of these countries are also the fastest growing economies today, with a growing consumer culture and access to the Internet. 75% of international scholars specialize in STEM fields and are therefore likely to be used to technology (Open Doors – pdf file).
On the other hand, in the US, colleges are facing an increasing pressure to lower costs and tightening government and private support. American students and their families are also exposed to spiraling college costs. Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 37 percent, and prices at private institutions rose 25 percent, after adjustment for inflation (source).
The students are consequently exploring trade schools, community colleges and other options, thereby creating the very real and added threat of lower enrollment levels in the long term.
Managing Virtual Visits
Since expanding the recruitment horizon presents a potential revenue stream for colleges, increasing international recruitment has become important. However investing in recruiting abroad is expensive and difficult. Technology can fill the gap either through contributing to increased revenues or through lowered costs or both. One option, of course, is to invest in online education in a strategic manner.
Another is to increase the international student base without increasing recruiting costs. YouVisit manages to help schools do exactly that by introducing virtual campus visits. This allows universities to get away with a low budget for increased international recruiting while allowing tech savvy international students to check out universities without making a trip to the US.
YouVisit uses proprietary technologies to produce interactive Virtual Campus Visits that feature rich-media, video content and 360-degree panoramic views, and distributes them directly to target audiences using websites, Facebook, and smartphone mobile apps. They designed the tours to help prospective students and their families get a true feel for what it’s like to walk around and explore the campuses.
So what inspired the creation of YouVisit? While researching graduate programs, CEO Abi Mandelbaum (in the video above) and his friends began looking for ways to tour universities online and found that the only way to get a good sense of the campus layout and college life was to visit them in person. Limited time and resources made it difficult for them to personally visit every university they were considering. They began to realize that other prospective students and their families might also find themselves in a similar situation – and recognized there was a potential business opportunity for them. This led to YouVisit.
YouVisit targets international students on behalf of universities. The available languages on the Virtual Campus Visit program includes English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and many more. Over 500,000 prospective international students in more than 100 countries have used the program. Analytics provided are real-time, and customizable and allow schools to improve their interactive content based on the behaviors and preferences of both online visitors and college recruitment officers.
Does Virtual Bring Physical Visits?
According to YouVisit, partner schools have experienced up to a 30 percent increase in physical campus visits, 80 percent increase in quality inquiries, and 25 percent increase in yield. When asked about the affordability, Abi told us that his goal at YouVisit is to help every school receive the benefits of their Walking Tours and Virtual Campus Visit platform, so they have made their packages very cost effective – starting at just $3,000 per year. Abi points out that YouVisit’s program also includes a mobile app, which can be used on the Apple or Android platform. It is the first of its kind with full GPS and campus tour components, such as automated tour guide and audio messages based on the user’s location.
In a rough economy, with complaints of tuition escalation from parents and students, an indebted student body, and rising costs, colleges must rely on technology, and globalization for increased revenues while keeping costs down. For the US to continue to be a top exporter of higher education, and for colleges to stay competitive, low cost recruitment of international students in a way that is attractive for technology savvy students can mean having the inside edge. For such colleges YouVisit may indeed be an option worth exploring.
View A Campus Tour
Want to check out the virtual campus tour for Stony Brook? Check out their Facebook page here.
Want to see how Yale built their virtual tour? Click here.
About The Authors
Dr. Abir Qasem is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science, and Director of Academic Computing at Bridgewater College. He has a PhD from Lehigh University and has worked on software projects with DoE, FAA, TechX and Carnegie Mellon University. Follow Abir on Twitter @abirqasem
Tanya Gupta has worked on technology and development for the World Bank’s Latin America and the Caribbean Region, and is now working in the Bank’s Corporate Finance and Risk Management unit as Senior Resource Management Officer. Follow Tanya on Twitter @tanyagupta or at TechTanya.com
Image Source: Mt. San Jacinto College