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Launch of Foreign-Language Microsites Bolsters International Recruitment Initiatives

As a supplement to its recruitment and marketing initiatives, including overseas travel, Old Dominion's Office of International Admissions (OIA) is taking advantage of the Internet to promote ODU as a university of choice in countries around the world.

The office recently developed and launched a series of microsites in five different languages - Vietnamese, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese - through a search service it joined last June, http://www.hotcoursesabroad.com/, a website that caters to international students seeking information that can help them pursue their dream of studying abroad (see photo below).

"The microsites 'sit atop of' our odu.edu page," said Steve Risch, director of OIA. "We selected these languages based on market trends and current demand."

Since signing on with the Hotcourses service in mid-2012, ODU has received more than 1,100 leads and direct inquiries from prospective students across the globe, and the new microsites are expected to bolster that number.

"This will generate not just the general inquiries that we've been getting all along, but we chose these five languages based on market intelligence and enrollment trends in the United States," Risch said. "Brazil, China and the Middle East are hot markets right now.

Maintaining a robust and diverse international student cohort in the face of changing trends is the ongoing goal of the Office of International Admissions and the university's International Recruitment Committee, which also worked on this new initiative. Currently, ODU's full-time international students number approximately 1,100, representing 113 countries. India, Saudi Arabia and China rank one, two and three.

Risch and David Danenberg, the ODU international admissions recruitment coordinator who manages the new microsites for OIA, are hopeful that the initiative will prove itself over time in supporting the university's targeted recruitment efforts overseas. Danenberg said that prior to the microsites going live a few weeks ago he was getting "maybe five inquiries a day, and now I'm getting more like 25. I've seen a definite increase in the number of student inquiries from South America."

Although the microsites are not physically located on the main ODU server, "the look and feel is the same," Risch said.

"It's actually a Hotcourses website that's been built to look like ODU's page. It has all the information in each of the five languages. All of our FAQs are pretty much put into a website format that looks like the ODU website, but in the student's own language."

In addition to getting a general description of the university and its location, along with a four-and-a-half-minute slideshow of photos from ODU's spring 2012 commencement, international students can read about everything from academics to housing to sports and clubs.

"This is a way for students to find us; it's what we call armchair recruiting," Danenberg said. "If I were a student looking at this site, one of the things I like about it is that it does look like the ODU website, so I'm reassured that I'm actually getting legitimate information. And when I click the links it takes me directly onto the ODU website."

The translations on the ODU microsites are as much or more for the parents' benefit, Risch notes. "I always say it's more for the parents, because they play a very important role in the decision process for international students. In fact, in some parts of the world and in some cultures, the student really doesn't have much of a say - it's the parents that are going to make the final decision, and they may not be proficient in English."

In addition to parental input, many factors play into international student enrollment trends - chiefly, the value of the U.S. dollar abroad, foreign economic situations and politics. Recent fluctuations in the rupee against the dollar have resulted in an exchange rate that has seen the cost of tuition jump 25 to 30 percent for Indian students looking to study in the U.S., Risch said. "When the U.S. dollar is strong abroad, it's bad for us. It means there's not as much investment in goods and services, education included."

Risch is optimistic that the investment in the Hotcourses microsites pays dividends down the road. "We will build these microsites into our communication plan and follow up with leads we get from our own recruitment initiatives," he said. "The broader the platform for your message or recruitment and marketing initiatives, the more exposure you're going to get. So you look for services like this."

ODU's English Language Center (ELC), which works in collaboration with the Office of International Admissions, actually paid for the Hotcourses contract and microsites service, and is looking into launching its own microsites via Hotcourses, Risch said. The ELC offers an intensive English as a Second Language program for students who need in-depth study of English and a bridge program for those who have been conditionally accepted by the university.

"Although we're under two different areas - the ELC is under Academic Affairs and International Admissions is under Student Engagement and Enrollment Services - this is evidence of our collaborative efforts and vital partnership," Risch said. "It's an example of sharing resources and funding to try to stretch our dollars. We're both benefitting from the initiative."