Building an International Student Program Team
Vol. 15 No. 6
International student programs have grown tremendously over the past decade in private-independent schools. In response to this growth, more schools have applied for and received SEVP certification in the past few years than ever before.
However, in a hasty scramble to meet compliance, some schools are finding themselves with access to a portal they don’t fully understand, responsible for policies they’re vaguely familiar with, and misaligned with other key administrators at their schools.
If this sounds like your school, don’t worry—this article can help. The first step in gaining clarity is to clearly define what an International Student Program Team is, who should be part of it, and what it means for both your international enrollment and for your school as a whole.
The Role of the Business Office
Adding another hat to the crowded Business Office hat rack, many schools depend on this department to work alongside the Admission Office in managing international student agent documentation, international student health insurance, SEVP/SEVIS compliance, and tuition collection.
In some schools, it is the Business Office that also takes on the responsibility of employing the principal designated school official (PDSO) or designated school official (DSO). The PSDO/DSO works with the SEVIS portal to manage international student registration and government-mandated documentation that schools must complete and keep on record.
It is also a common practice that the Admission Office and the Business Office share a mix of PDSO and DSO responsibilities. However, only one person on campus can be registered as the PDSO with up to ten DSOs. Only those registered as either a PDSO or DSO should access the SEVIS portal; this responsibility cannot be shared with non-school staff.
Homeland Security updates policies and regulations fairly often. These updates are communicated through the SEVIS portal but, by design, can be easily overlooked. The Business Office should regularly refresh its understanding of current mandates and best practices—even if the role of PDSO resides in another department.
If your school uses international agents to help place students, the Business Office should also be responsible for conducting background checks and vetting references of all commissioned or non-commissioned recruiters. If this responsibility has been placed on the Admission Office, then the Business Office should confirm that screening has taken place and request documentation to keep on file alongside other vendor information.
The Role of the Admission Office
The PDSO/DSO typically reside in the Admission Office, working with SEVIS to manage international students and the government-mandated steps of compliance. This is the natural location since it’s these fine administrators who handle domestic student enrollments. (However, some schools elect to keep international and domestic student admissions separate, having the PDSO work from another office.)
The PDSO/DSO's first responsibility is to understand how international students benefit the school’s culture. International students are most typically full-pay seats. This is a benefit to the school’s bottom line and overall admission numbers.
However, this shouldn’t be the only driving reason behind your school’s international program. International students need to be mission-appropriate; hence, good fits with your overall student culture. If the student culture is an after-thought, the international program will crumble and, along with it, the overall culture will fracture. This can lead to declining enrollment—and, in some extreme situations, school closings.
With a clear picture of how international students will complement your student experience, the next key focus should be on compliance—proper management of paperwork and portal procedures, as well as remaining current with law.
Your school must be SEVP-certified to have an international program. This is an intense process that many schools find overwhelming. SEVP/SEVIS is the Homeland Security portal that hosts all mandatory documentation for traveling students and is critical to your program’s success. The management of this site is the key responsibility of the PDSO/DSO.
Another key function of the Admission Office and/or PDSO is maintaining relationships with student placement officers, sometimes referred to as international student brokers.
Background checks should be completed for all vendors your school works with—especially your international student placement brokers. Ask for references and confirm they’re in good standing. Your school is responsible—not the broker—if steps are missed in the enrollment process. Check in with your agents during each step in the process.
Note: Never give your agent access to your SEVIS portal!
The Role of the Development Office
The Development Office doesn’t typically have a key role in international student programs. However, it is vital that the Development Office is well versed in how the international program enriches the overall student experience—your program’s mission. This allows them to communicate consistent messages to alumni, donors, and the community at large.
The Role of Division Heads
Division Heads not only engage with international students, they engage and mentor faculty and staff who have perhaps the largest role in your international students' lives. They are your International Program Team’s eyes.
It’s critical that Division Heads understand how the program is intended to enhance the overall student experience so that they can evaluate its impact efficiently and correctly, and mentor those working with the students.
Measuring and monitoring your school’s student culture falls, in part, on your Division Heads. They are a key part of your International Program Team and should be included in conversations and decisions concerning the program’s direction.
The Role of School Heads
Your School Head is the center of everything transpiring on campus. Your international student program is no exception. The Head should be involved in all decisions concerning students, both domestic and international. This includes adjustments to best practices, updates in compliance regulations, setting campus policy and protocol for the international program, and any and all situations that arise.
See how your team ranks. Email us to request an International Student Program Risk Assessment. For more information about SEVIS and International Student Programs, you can also read the International Student Program Quarterly Newsletter.
Additional ISM Resources:
International Program Newsletter Vol. 1 No. 1 Ok, You’ve Enrolled International Students: Now What?
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 3 International Recruitment Strategies
The Source for Private School News Vol. 15 No. 3 Tips for Working With International Student Agents