Moving forward in uncertain times

President-elect Donald Trump

International educators in the United States and around the world reel from the results of the US presidential election on November 8, 2016. What does this mean for IEP professionals, and how do we move forward?

Today is November 15, 2016, and it has been one week since the results of the American presidential election shocked the world. At a global level, in the immediate aftermath of the election, financial markets tanked, world leaders reached out to the President-elect to nervously offer their congratulations, and worried officials around the world met to discuss how President-elect Trump’s successful election would impact them.

Individual reactions varied, as well. Citizens of the USA and of nations everywhere wondered how on Earth this man could have successfully run for President. Americans who voted for Trump are hoping to see the return of old jobs, laws, and policies. International students inside the USA began to worry about whether they would be sent home in January. And international educators? Most of us began to worry about our livelihoods.

Reaction of our leadership

Within 24-48 hours of the election, school and IEP administrators sent messages to international students to reassure them that they are, in fact, wanted and appreciated on their campuses. Leaders of professional associations like NAFSA and EnglishUSA dispatched messages to their membership to reiterate their commitment to our principles, to inform us of their intention to go into “advocacy mode,” and to remind us all that we are in this together. International educators across the USA reached out to each other by email, social media, phone, and blogs to express the feelings of confusion–and even grief–that they were feeling, and to provide reassurance that our society–and our jobs–will survive a Trump presidency.

Are we even recruiting in the same world anymore?

And as for me? In the past seven days since those fateful hours that I spent staring at my TV in speechless shock as I watched the results unfold (except for that moment when I started screaming at the TV once the results from Florida–where I have recently relocated–came in), I have been taking everything in: messages of consternation via social media, messages of encouragement from others in the field, articles from a variety of news outlets in which experts predict the impact of Trump’s agenda on the rest of the world and blog posts on that topic, and more.

At the same time, I have been spending my work hours doing research for my IEP’s strategic marketing plan. Talk about a confusing and challenging task, given our new situation! It’s difficult to look at economic indicators, student mobility data from IIE, and insights from EducationUSA, the US Commercial Service, etc. in order to try to determine which markets we should target over the next few years when this single election makes it seem as though all of the rules have changed. I feel like I’m in the Marketing Twilight Zone.

Think about it:

  • Do we spend our time and resources recruiting in the Middle East–the fastest-growing sending region of international students to the USA–if our President-elect plans to enact a moratorium on the entry of Muslims into this country?
  • Do we spend our time and resources recruiting Chinese students–the top place of origin for international students in the USA and the #2 sender of students to IEPs when our President-elect plans to label them as a currency manipulator and potentially start a trade war?
  • What kind of message does it send to Latin Americans when our President-elect plans to build a wall (both literally and figuratively, it seems) between the US and Latin America?
  • How can we convince potential students (not to mention their families) that they can pursue an education in the USA when the results of the election appear to have sounded a clear worldwide signal that they may not actually be welcome? Surveys prior to the election already showed that a large portion of potential international students would reconsider studying in the USA in the event of a Trump victory. It doesn’t help that, over the past week,  incidents of race-/religion-related harassment have been happening all over the country.

Nothing seems to make sense anymore. Basically, places that were among the “low-hanging fruit” for IEPs like ours over the past few years may dry up on us in short order. When you add to that the fact that IEP enrollment across the United States has already taken a hit over the past 1.5 years and that IEP administrators were already pessimistic about opportunities for growth this year, it doesn’t take long for an intense feeling of worry about our future to set in.

Snap out of it! We have jobs to do…

Still, this happened. Donald Trump is our President-elect (I think I just broke my fingers by forcing them to type those words!). Before long, he will be inaugurated, he will have a cabinet in place, his party will have the majority in both houses of Congress and in the judicial branch, and new policies will be put in place per the mandate that the White House and Congress were given by the American people on November 8th.

Democracy functions via the loyalty of the opposition. It is what it is, and there’s a point where we all have to “suck it up,” move forward, and make the best of things. We have jobs to do and families to provide for. Plus, we have thousands of intelligent, innovative, and entrepreneurial professionals running IEPs in this country; I have to believe that we will be able to keep things together and even rise above the challenges that we will be facing over the next few years. After all, if our industry managed to survive the aftermath of 9/11, we will get through the challenges presented by a DJT presidency.

…but how?

Once my brain became a little less frazzled and the shock started to wear off, I started giving some thought to how IEPs can move forward with our marketing strategies. What do we do when we don’t know what kind of recruirment environment that we will be operating in?

For me, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is time to get back to basics.

Focusing on relationships

If the future seems confusing for recruiters and Marketing managers, we can bet that our agents, partners, sponsors, event organizers, and other vendors are all “feeling the pain” as well. It’s time to extend a hand toward them and do what we can to maintain our worldwide network of relationships. Schedule Skype calls, send emails or hand-written letters to reiterate your commitment to making the program/relationship work, reach out via instant messengers like WhatsApp or WeChat and see if they have any concerns about how we move forward. It has never been easier to connect with our international colleagues than it is today–and it can be done without overextending our budgets (though it may mean overextending our work hours as we try to talk to our partners in real-time despite differences in time zones!). Think outside of the box and do what you can so that you are one of the first people that they contact when they hear of a potential opportunity for sending students to the USA.

Taking some risks

The near future may seem uncertain, but now is not the time to slow down our marketing efforts. If anything, it is time to ramp up our marketing efforts and maybe to take a few risks. 

For instance, it may be time to recruit off of the beaten path. There may be some good surprises in unexpected places, even if they are on a small scale. It may also be time to form new partnerships or niche programs. With the drop in IEP enrollment over the past year, many institutions have been focusing on developing special programs; we should not abandon those efforts, as they can help to keep our doors open during lean times. 

Another option to drive enrollment and diversity is through funding: consider expanding your IEPs scholarship offerings to promote your program, as well. Your alumni may be willing to contribute to a campaign for a few deserving students. Every little bit helps. The point is, now, more than ever, it’s time to think outside of the box when making plans for what happens next.

Moving forward

In all of the confusion, one thing is certain for many of us: the determination to see our IEP through whatever comes next. Let’s use our creativity and our resources to move forward. Moreover, let’s be hopeful and encourage one another, keeping the faith that we have what it takes to overcome the obstacles that will come our way. 

Plus, who knows? Circumstances may surprise us. Think about it: one of the results of 9/11 was an attempt at rapprochement by the governments of the USA and Saudi Arabia, which resulted in one of the largest scholarship programs in history and tens of thousands of Saudis being educated in our schools. Eventually, we will have a better understanding of what is to come, and we will be able to operate within those circumstances. Maybe a Trump Administration won’t be the complete disaster that many International Educators think that it will be

President Obama may be nearing the end of his term, but now, more than ever, is time for the “audacity of hope.”

 

Photo by Michael Vadon, https://flic.kr/p/ybd7WS.

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