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UH prioritizes recruitment with admissions office shake-up

international student enrollment steady climb and drop.

UH’s Office of Admissions added two members to its leadership team: Johna McClendon and Sara Khalifa. Associate Director of International Admissions McClendon and Assistant Director of Customer Service Khalifa face the challenge of improving the enrollment rate at UH — something 45 percent of campuses have been unable to do in terms of international students. | Michael Slaten/The Cougar

While universities across the nation tackle the financial consequences associated with lower enrollment rates, UH looks to keep its numbers up with improved customer service and international student recruitment—something other universities struggled to manage last year.

“In the University of Houston, statistically our numbers have been up, the main campus specifically,” said Johna McClendon, the new associate director for international admissions. “We are 72.1 percent completion rate, and we are 3 percent up in international student applications from last year.”

Although applications increased by 3 percent nationwide, the growth has slowed from the 7 to 10 percent over the previous three years. In a survey of 500 college campuses by the Institute of International Education, 45 percent of the schools reported decreased foreign student enrollment, with a 7 percent drop overall.

According to the Houston Chronicle, UH’s international student applications dropped 27 percent for Fall 2016, while all Texas public universities experienced a 12.5 percent decline.

Foreign student enrollment at UH had been rising steadily until that semester, according to institutional research. Between Fall 2015 and 2016, the University admitted 124 fewer international students.

“Our goals are in line with President Khator’s,” McClendon said. “We want to make sure that international students have that top-notch, tier one educational experience.”

To achieve this, the Office of Admissions created a new position. Sara Khalifa, the first assistant director for customer service, works to improve the admissions experience.

“For the Office of Admissions, one of the things in making us the most marketable and the most attractive university is to make sure we are addressing the needs of our students,” Khalifa said. “The first thing was to create an email support team.”

Previously, admissions counselors responded to student emails, and they helped the phone team whenever they needed it. This responsibility kept admissions counselors from fully devoting their efforts to recruitment, so the University wanted to establish the right support teams, Khalifa said.

“We now have three people on our email support team answering any questions that students send to our admissions email account,” Khalifa said. “We’re actually now responding to our students within a 24 to 48-hour window.”

The new email support system ensures that students receive help from an actual person, not just an automated response.

UH added a new Spanish-speaking employee to the call center for a total of six team members. The office made these decisions based on data indicating a need for the additional help, Khalifa said.

According to Khalifa, UH also plans on implementing different means of communication for students to reach them, such as chat features and social media.

International students with questions on their admissions status benefit from the new support teams. Yoijin Oh, an international student from Korea and a hotel and restaurant management senior, walked us through her admissions process.

“I’ve been here almost three years,” Oh said. “I sent several transcripts for the transfer, and they said they didn’t get it.”

Oh said she tried calling the admissions office, but no one answered. Her emails went unanswered for three weeks, she said.

Foreign students face a lengthy, slow application process. The new support systems attempt to deal with the issues faced by students like Oh.

McClendon mentioned that international students also pay some of the highest tuition rates. Although the cost of attendance for foreign students exceeds that of domestic ones, certain scholarships can waive out-of-state tuition.

Viviana Linares, an international student from Colombia who’s an industrial engineering senior and former president of the International Students Organization, said to apply a year in advance.

“Everything is handled through email communications, and there’s a platform where you upload your documents,” Linares said. “Whenever I had a question, they replied really fast with the answer, so following up wasn’t an issue.”

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