Looking for a Pathway Partner? Maybe Check in the Mirror
“Even without a partner, you can still benefit from emulating the best elements of outside pathway providers”
If you are looking for a pathway partner, it is probably also true that you are looking for some kind of overarching structure to guide your international student management on campus.
You’re also not alone; in 2009, only two outside pathway partnerships existed in the US, while seven years later, there were 55*. Why such interest in partnering? Pathway Providers are most often selected by universities because they bring added value to a university’s international student lifecycle, from student recruiting to student support and career success.
-Fund the pathway program, reducing university exposure to market risk;
-Bring a Vast Network of Agents;
-Deliver Student Recruiting & Scale Economies;
-Conduct Real-time, All-the-Time Market Research;
-Provide Greater Market Responsiveness;
-Offer Increased Int’l Student Support; and
-Elevate the Campus Discussion to Gain more
The changed US market has had its impact on pathway providers in the last 6-9 months, however, with several providers being acquired by other players, exiting the US market, or downsizing/”rightsizing” their partnerships to focus primarily on top-tier comprehensive institutions in desirable destinations. There are now a third fewer providers, and those remaining are more selective about the schools they’re seeking.
If you’re a top 200 university in a highly-desirable international student destination, partnering may be a great option. For the rest of you, or for those among the Top 200 that are cautious about partnering, even without a partner, you can still benefit from emulating the best elements of outside pathway providers.
Lessons Learned from the OPM market
We’ve run/worked with organisations in both markets, and the Pathway Provider market looks, in many ways, like a younger cousin of the online program management (OPM) market. Both are dominated by several large third party providers. In both, these providers offer comprehensive marketing, recruiting, and student support services to universities in exchange for a large share of revenue. The OPM market is more mature.
The consolidation we’re seeing now among pathway providers began years ago in the OPM space. And OPM buyers have evolved as well, with more seeking unbundled services providing some help, but not the comprehensive, fully-bundled services; this appears to be starting to happen in the pathway sector*.
In the OPM space, there’s another lesson learned that has implications for the pathway space: the emergence of the “Internal OPM.” At a growing number of large state university online
operations, for instance, an internal group combines and coordinates the service elements of an OPM, but does so primarily with in-house resources.
What makes this different from other internal approaches is its particular internal role and responsibilities; with its centralised, service-provider structure, it has been fully empowered to set consistent standards for “investable” programs based on market research, handle integrated marketing in close collaboration with the admissions dept, manage new program launches and their ongoing back-office operations, and receive a share of funds generated for its operations.
“The changed US market has had its impact on pathway providers in the last 6-9 months…There are now a third fewer active providers, and those remaining are more selective about the schools they’re seeking”
Introducing the Coordinated International Student Success Infrastructure (CISSI)
In our experiences working with universities and colleges of varying sizes and governance structures, this empowered, centralised model has promise for the management of international programming, including pathways, at universities.
In many of the institutions with whom we’ve worked, there’s really no single home for international student growth and retention. International Student Services issues i-20’s and supports int’l students once they arrive. Admissions/Int’l Admissions manages the inflow of student inquiries.
The Intensive English Program (IEP) team handle ESL shortfalls and may also be somewhat vertically integrated in issuing visas, supporting students on campus, etc, but they lose sight of the student once they fully matriculate and are very often measured on their internal profitability rather than their overall financial contribution to the university.
This decentralisation prevents the university from responding holistically to international student needs as there’s not one single view of the international student. Where central oversight exists, it is focused on expenses and revenues related to recruitment and retention, leaving operations and expertise to these other more siloed units.
One is reminded of the three blindfolded people being asked to touch and describe an elephant from their own vantage point; one says it’s a snake, another a rock, and yet another a tree.
Imagine in this metaphor, a fourth person – a conservation officer specialising in the maintenance of park infrastructure – who collects data from the blindfolded people separately and makes decisions that may be helpful for the maintenance of snakes, rocks and trees; these are all potential benefits to the elephant, but only indirectly or tangentially. This is the system in place in many institutions today relative to international student success.
“This model emulates the best elements of value brought by outside pathway providers, for those choosing or needing to go their own way”
A Coordinated International Student Success Infrastructure approach offers better coordination of these many views and operations involving International students. Instead of these different, sometimes competing operations managing their partial outcomes in their own ways without a view of the whole, universities can create one internal structure with primary responsibility for the enrollment, retention, progression, and graduation results of International students.
If this structure is empowered to bring together academics and administrators and can enact courses of action for the university to improve these results, our evidence suggests that international student outcomes will be improved. This model emulates the best elements of value brought by outside pathway providers, for those choosing or needing to go their own way.
This model emulates the best elements of value brought by outside pathway providers, for those choosing or needing to go their own way. In subsequent posts, we’ll walk through these various elements of value and share how each element can be rendered in this CISSI model.
- For Part 2, please click here
About the authors: Rick Rattray is a founding partner of the international consulting firm, The Parliament Group. Larry Kuiper PhD is academic director — International Student Success at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
*NAFSA study, 2017
**We’re just starting to see this in the pathway space, and our own consultancy, TheParliamentGroup, serves universities who don’t want the full, comprehensive offering of a pathway provider like Shorelight, INTO, Navitas, or StudyGroup