Veronique van Cruchten

How a digital toolkit for international exposure delivers more than just marketing wins



Case study with the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) – Published in NAGAP Perspectives Spring 2021


Travel limitations from 2020 have brought new challenges to universities marketing internationally. When your team can’t pitch themselves on the annual fairs circuit, digital marketing becomes your go-to tool for keeping your institution relevant on the international stage. But innovations in the digital space are bringing unexpected wins.

This latest case study with the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) explores how working with a digital partner can offer benefits beyond simply growing your digital presence. By leveraging new data technologies and insights, Studyportals helped UTA create innovative ways of working to deliver exciting results even during a crisis.


Sebastian Fuentes – Associate Director of Graduate and International Recruitment – shares how his move towards digital has given UT Arlington tools to better deal with the impact of COVID-19, as well as prepared them to meet the needs of an increasingly competitive international future.


Ambitious international goals

UT Arlington is one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the United States (U.S. News & World Report in 2020). To further this positive trend, the university leadership set out to double their share of international students from around 4,000 in 2019 to 8,000 by 2025. With over half of their international population hailing from India, UTA planned to expand their strategic approach there before extending recruitment efforts to China, Southeast Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.

Founded in 1895, The University of Texas at Arlington is an academic powerhouse pursuing excellence in research, teaching, and community service. They offer baccalaureates, master’s, and doctoral degree programs to more than 60,000 students (as of 2019). The student body – drawn from almost every state and over 100 countries – fuels a highly skilled workforce. The University’s alumni community reaches across the world, yet approximately 65% of graduates live in the Dallas Fort Worth region and contribute significantly to the local economy. Many graduates find themselves working at one of the 24 Fortune 500 companies in the Dallas area.

From traditional models to digital innovation in just one year with the help of Studyportals

At the Division of Enrollment Management, Sebastian Fuentes is tasked with recruiting undergraduate and graduate students both stateside and overseas. Mr Fuentes also facilitates agent partnerships and collaborations with external marketing platforms with an international focus.


Before 2018, international recruitment consisted of two annual trips to India centered around UTA faculty engagement. In 2018, UTA stepped up its game by creating Mr Fuentes’ role, as well as the International Programs Working Group (IPWG) – a committee that coordinates linkages with universities around the world. The team expanded UTA’s in-person marketing activities to more than two dozen locations annually. They targeted traditional fairs and school visits as well as partnerships with education agents, consultants, and university associates. Agreements with international agents grew from two to more than a dozen.

Alongside these in-person efforts, the department’s digital marketing strategy took the shape of social media and paid advertising campaigns designed to co-occur with recruitment activities in local markets. A recruitment trip to the Philippines, for example, was preceded by a national Facebook campaign targeting prospects.

Foreseeing a growing reliance on digital media, UT Arlington partnered with Studyportals in 2019 to help them structure their digital presence year-round. The team immediately gained access to a much wider audience in Studyportals’ 36 million annual unique users as well as global visibility in locations without partners or UTA reps.

Establishing a digital presence

With a database of over 200,000+ published academic courses from 3,750+ higher educations, Studyportals is the leading information source for study seekers at undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD levels. Their results-based approaches help universities with digital marketing and international student recruitment efforts, enabling them to reach the global student population.

UTA and Studyportals agreed on an innovative Enrollment-Based Partnership with a joint goal of recruiting talented students from all over the world. This approach focuses on long-term cooperation and close communication between the university and Studyportals teams. Right away, Studyportals began building UTA’s profile alongside a full catalogue of degree offerings and program information on its various platforms. However, the support didn’t end there. Studyportals helped UTA to build on prospect searches through eCRM email and retargeting campaigns. This enabled students to find and compare their education options before making an informed choice on where to study. As a Studyportals partner, UTA could be part of that conversation.

Collaboration with Studyportals has led to massive growth in UTA’s classroom diversity; the digital marketing efforts are paying off. In 2019, UT Arlington received more than 800 leads via Studyportals, resulting in over 200 UTA enrollments using Studyportals to decide on their international education. That equates to an estimated $8.3 million in course sales. It’s interesting to note that many of these enrollments came from regions outside UTA’s original international strategy, including from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Pakistan. Today, UT Arlington welcomes students from over 100 countries and counting.

Pivoting international strategies for domestic gains

The pandemic of 2020 resulted in changes to the higher education industry that few could have foreseen. Nonetheless, institutions positioned for a digital future found themselves in a privileged position when it came to marketing during the crisis. Despite the pandemic, UT Arlington was able to enroll its largest freshman class ever in Fall 2020. Naturally, however, international sales took a blow. Political uncertainty combined with the effects of the pandemic resulted in a significant number of international deferrals either for a semester or for a whole year.

To compensate for the decrease in international students, Mr Fuentes’ team was able to quickly pivot their digital offering to target a domestic audience, especially in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Texas region. The result was a much-intensified effort to recruit domestically as well as a higher rate of induction of UTA undergraduates to its graduate programs. In targeting this new domestic audience, UTA were able to leverage Studyportals’ unique data insights for rapid analyses of which courses were trending during the pandemic.


The future is digital

With no travel opportunities on the horizon in 2020, Mr Fuentes’ team seized the opportunity to go digital-first. That decision allowed the team to reach new audiences and establish visibility in areas without representatives or partners. Here, insight from Studyportals became invaluable in determining opportunities in the digital space, helping to refine targeting efforts in selected countries and increase engagement.

To feed a diverse pipeline for 2021 and beyond, UTA increased its attendance at virtual recruitment fairs in new locations such as the Emirates, Kathmandu, Nepal, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and selected countries across Eastern Europe and South-East Asia. These would serve as both brand-building efforts and as a means to lay the foundation for later in-country representation. In parallel, the team increased their efforts to sign international agents by attending or hosting more events and providing more digital content. Studyportals’ intensified their promotion across the platform to establish a year-round structural presence via geo-targeting.

This new digital approach allows the team at UTA to stay agile and respond to international student interest with focused marketing and outreach. Targeted banner campaigns, mailings and content engagement campaigns can now be actioned to a range of demographics with a moment’s notice. The team can also engage with students in the middle of their decision journey by remarketing to students who have shown interest in UTA’s programs anywhere across the contact journey.


UTA’s analysis of campaign data, in collaboration with data input from Studyportals’ global data share, provides the team with insight on which levels or programs are attractive to which audiences, countries, and regions. Studyportals continues to support UT Arlington with reports of student interest as input for short-term and longer-term marketing planning.




Article was originally published in NAGAP Perspectives Spring 2021




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