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Boston University: Retaining Chinese International Students On-Campus

Posted in: Education/Cultural, Marketing Profile & Segmentation, Problem ID, Product/Service Development/Viability, Qualitative Exploratory, Win/Loss

Boston University: Retaining Chinese International Students On-Campus

Challenge: Boston University has been admitting increasing numbers of Chinese students in light of a growing Chinese population coming to the US for higher education. The Chinese international student body behaves uniquely, moving off-campus and leaving campus dining plans much earlier in their college careers than their domestic counterparts.

Objective: To identify the reasons Chinese international students leave BU housing and dining, ultimately to better retain these students on-campus.

Solution: In an initial two-phase Qualitative Exploratory, small group discussions were first conducted among “mentor” students, who were active and had clout in the Chinese student community. Findings from these discussions were used to hone in on specific cultural elements during an extensive second round of focus groups conducted among the broader Chinese community. As a last step, the BU Chinese community was invited to participate in a quantitative survey, based on input from Phase I. A conjoint analysis was used as part of this phase to understand the critical features and messages that would drive these students to remain in on-campus housing and retain a dining plan.

Result: A number of critical cultural elements impacting Chinese students’ housing and dining decisions were uncovered. Plan-it made recommendations to address these cultural needs and amend aspects of BU housing and dining to better meet these needs, and ultimately provide an overall more satisfying BU experience for this population.
BU has consequently commissioned the opening of the BU Beijing Gateway Office to help set on-campus expectations early on, and to assist applicants and their families, who often find the process of applying and adjusting to foreign universities challenging. In another step related to Plan-it’s dining recommendations, BU coordinated to have its on-campus chefs team with the Culinary Institute of America for a 10-week authentic Asian cuisine training program. To date, feedback from Asian students has been extremely positive to the new cuisine. In the most recent Freshman class, there has been a 10% increase in students retained from Freshman to Sophomore year based of efforts recommended by Plan-it. Long-term, BU is also making adjustments to some of its housing styles to better meet the needs of these students, and ultimately retain them on-campus longer.