University of Minnesota: Improving international student experience through an institution-wide understanding of student perceptions


Xi Yu, Evaluation Specialist at the International Student and Scholar Services at University of Minnesota (UofM) Twin Cities, has been running the International Student Barometer since 2013 as part of the university’s commitment to the important dialogue with students. It was the first time the university had used a single tool to survey the entire international student population at the campus and in this article Xi explains how the ISB “has been tremendously helpful for the university to understand the baseline of student experience.”

“And it doesn’t just stop there,” Xi explains. “We use the knowledge gained about student experience, and their satisfaction with services, to further the conversation with our campus partners and develop those relationships."

"Our dialogue with students creates meaningful internal dialogue with lecturers, academics and other departments. The survey results help create more questions for us, so we use it to contribute to focus groups that complement the survey results.”

The impact UofM realizes from their participation in the ISB is made more tangible due to the results being used as reference points for various departments around the university. So, when staff are considering the international student experience, and what they might do to continually improve it, the ISB acts as their benchmark. As just one example, Xi’s own department has used the data to change the contents of the new student orientation program. Students were indicating they were less than satisfied with Course Registry so the team explored this with College Advisors to unpick the process of registration for new students in order to identify where improvements could be made. The subsequent updated orientation program benefited from additional content that better prepared students for the registration process.

Xi also explains how their ISB results have affected staffing; following their first two years of participation, the university added several full-time staff to focus on the international student services work, including additional career services staff to continuously improve students’ employability. The university has certainly witnessed benefits in this particular area – since the first year of participation, student satisfaction with the university’s careers advice has increased by 7%, and every aspect of the university’s career support outperforms the US benchmark.

Another win for the university has been their student arrivals process, which now receives the highest satisfaction scores of any institution in the US. Other areas that have seen significant improvement include local orientation; formal welcome; language support; and safety. All of this contributes towards students’ overall satisfaction which sits at 93% (compared to the US benchmark of 90%), and their propensity to recommend University of Minnesota – 31% of students would actively encourage people to apply (in-line with the US benchmark); and 53%, if asked, would encourage people to apply (3% above the US benchmark, and 6% above the global benchmark.)

Xi acknowledges how the results are widely used and referenced as part of decision-making processes:

“Across the university, people want to know about the areas for improvement, and particularly appreciate the benchmarking information so they can see how we compare against other institutions. The evidence-base provided by the ISB is also reliable and robust enough to contribute to the more high-level administrators’ meetings.”

UofM has always enjoyed a strong response rate from the student population, achieving as high as 45% in recent years. Xi’s department makes good use of the survey marketing tools provided as part of the process, but also give it their own additional push.

When it comes to student recruitment campaigns, highlights from the university’s results are used by the Enrolment Committee, Domestic and International Student Recruitment and the Admissions Office to convey the successes of the university to prospective students. Furthermore, the ISB has highlighted the three main factors that help students decide on UofM - future career impact; earning potential; and US Education reputation - so the Committee understands which strengths to continue to build upon. The pandemic of course represents a global challenge for higher education, and having conducted program evaluation for many years and consulted with many assessment specialists, Xi sees robust surveys as a way of supporting institutions’ responses at this time of rapid change.

The ISB helps institutions make informed decisions to enhance the international student experience and drive successful recruitment and marketing strategies.

More Resources