Making Binghamton a preferred destination for international students
Administrators, faculty and staff hold kickoff meeting
Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger kicked off a continuous quality improvement program Monday, with the assistance of the Watson Institute for Systems Excellence (WISE). The first in what will be a series of projects will focus on making Binghamton University a preferred destination for international students.
Stenger spoke to about 30 administrators, faculty and staff at the kickoff, focusing on the premise of how the University will improve its enrollment of international students across the board, and what policies and procedures should be undertaken to increase our market share.
“Last spring I realized that there were so many things we’re doing well at Binghamton” Stenger said. ”But with so many new things taking place, I thought we could use some help from experts to make sure we do them well. WISE has been doing this for years, so I asked Hari Srihari, WISE director, and Mohammad Khasawneh, WISE associate director, to put together a concept of a continuously active, continuous improvement program.”
Two students affiliated with WISE began gathering information for the project about four months ago, Stenger said. “We’ll focus on this project for the majority of the spring semester. WISE will help guide us through implementation and then we’ll move on to other projects.”
“It’s important for us to understand how international students go about selecting a campus,” Khasawneh said. “We need to look at the entire life cycle to see how we can affect decisions at each stage. We need to identify areas where we can improve and benchmark institutions including in the America East Conference, Ivy League schools, and some publics.
“We’ll seek input from everybody to help us move forward,” he added. “There will be a few preliminary recommendations that we can implement right away and we’ll share those with the appropriate people so we can begin making changes.”
The primary goal of the project is to look at services the University currently provides and the ways we recruit graduate and undergraduate students, Khasawneh said. “It’s important for us to continue to grow the reputation of our campus. The whole notion of a preferred destination is something unique for a university but we’ve seen other institutions, like the Mayo Clinic, adopt it and use their destination as a primary initiative to focus on.”
For international students, academic reputation is a major factor when selecting where to attend. However, when their choices are narrowed down, how they’ll pay to attend can be the tipping point, Khasawneh said. “For international students, the majority take out loans or use their parents’ savings, so it’s a major investment for them and their families. If they know their degree will get them a job, it’s a worthwhile investment, so something to consider is ‘can we increase or enhance campus employment opportunities for them?”
There are numerous other services/factors to look at as well. Transportation and how students move from their residences to campus, overall knowledge of services and how we make information accessible are just the beginning, Khasawneh said. “We want to make sure we offer a very diverse and inclusive environment so international students always feel welcome and that they’re an integral component of what we do. Those things can always help enhance the student experience so these students feel a part of this campus and there’s a sharing of their cultures.”
The WISE students are establishing a baseline of where the campus is now by gathering data. “We’ll slice and dice the data to look for opportunities for improvement,” Khasawneh said. “We’re looking at our existing support structure for international students. We’ll conduct a comparative study with benchmark institutions. Our goal is to look for little and big ideas to help us move forward.”
Khasawneh reviewed the data collected to this point, focusing on two areas: enrollment and transportation.
The University is doing well percentage-wise in terms of enrollment, but can do better, Khasawneh said. “There are a couple of areas where we can improve. We want to be at the top of the list, so what are other schools doing right?”
Factors driving growth include increased visibility at the international level, growing partnerships with institutions and consultants, scholarship programs, ESL courses and employment opportunities. “We need to review these categories carefully and see what else we can do,” Khasawneh added.
Looking at transportation, students want to make sure they can get to campus, so we need to look at demand and capacity, he said. “How many buses run throughout the day? How is bus information available to students? What’s the walkability and bike friendliness on campus?”
Khasawneh’s presentation and the conversation it started were just the beginning, Stenger said. “This was a great start but we’ve only scratched the surface. We’ll have to prioritize recommendations over the next six months and see where funding might be available to allocate or even to change our practices to get something done.”