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NAFSA 2024, insights and reflections

Another challenging admissions cycle ahead?

Recently back at their desks following the 2024 NAFSA annual conference in New Orleans, we caught up with our very own Adam Rennison and Megan Prettyman to get the lowdown on how the event went, the key trends that emerged, and what this all means for the international higher education sector going forward.

So, how did the event go?

Adam: “It was another successful NAFSA and carried out in typical NAFSA style. It was great to be able to meet with so many people from across the sector, but even better that it was carried out in such a relaxed and positive way – the event is always conducive to good spirits, even more so this time around, as the ‘Big Easy’ nickname for New Orleans suggests!”

Megan: “It was a great week in New Orleans! It was great to connect with our current partners and sector colleagues, and meet prospective partners, and overall, a really positive few days. Generally speaking, many of the institutions we spoke with had a solid understanding of their biggest challenges, and what’s impeding their optimum student conversion. They wanted to find solutions that were efficient and custom to their specific needs but would also complement what their teams are already doing well. Because we provide conversion and engagement solutions that can range from the first point of inquiry to enrolment or just cover one stage of the funnel, our bespoke services really resonated with many schools seeking tailor-made solutions.

What were some of the key themes that came across in your conversations?

Megan: "Bandwidth came across as a top issue for many institutions. People from many US institutions of all sizes spoke of familiar issues: applications piling up, admissions teams becoming stretched, and as a result, the subsequent decline in applicant experience. In recent years, we’ve helped several US institutions expedite application evaluation and improve the applicant experience, and the impact is almost immediately noticeable. I expect this will continue to be a key area for institutions who want to remain competitive and improve their applicant yield going forward.

In terms of the US, there was a general sense of cautious optimism with many institutions feeling generally positive about the upcoming Fall 2024 semester. More broadly, there was also really strong international representation, indicating continued bullishness in the global HE market."

Adam: “Speaking to UK representatives, their pain points were slightly different. Last year, the clear theme was addressing and overcoming the volume of applications. This year, discussion focused on how we can support with conversion and providing quality students. Senior figures at UK institutions are under pressure to deliver numbers and get the maximum out of their pipelines for the September intake, so our ability to alleviate short-term pressures with increased agility and efficiency was really well received.

It was also great to see increased representation from our side of the pond. While the UK and the US might be in different places in terms of markets, challenges, and opportunities, being able to connect on a global stage is important. Many of our current partners attended, providing us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our partnerships away from the day-today work. Conversations with our current partners reaffirmed both the importance of the work we are doing and how fortunate we are to have the support of so many brilliant universities. As a business, we’ve got a strong global footprint and are more present and mature than ever before.”

Any stand out highlights from the event?

Adam: “The Keystone get-together on the Thursday was brilliant, as ever. It’s always something that we look forward to – and I know it’s the highlight of the event for many people. Being able to get together with colleagues from across the wider Keystone group for a catch-up is great, and to be able to do it in such a vibrant place like downtown New Orleans is a winner.”

Megan: “The launch of Keystone’s annual State of Student Recruitment report was a highlight. It offered some interesting findings. For example, the UK and the US remain no.1 and no.2 respectively for the top study destinations in the world! It also showed that students are hedging their bets when it comes to applications, and they’re now 2.5x more likely to apply to more than four schools than the 2023 survey showed – meaning institutions have to work even harder to convert prospective students.

Rachel Fletcher’s moderation of the panel session of discussing the report’s findings was also really well received. Her panel members were really engaged, and I know there was appetite from many in attendance for more in-depth insights from her!”

Another successful conference in the books for the UniQuest team then! If any of the above issues ring true for you and your team, get in touch with or to discuss how UniQuest can support with your student recruitment aims.