A Contrarian View on Japan

In international student outreach circles today, a preponderance of attention is devoted to China, India, Vietnam and Korea – and for good reason. Seasoned practitioners and newcomers to the field alike know that large and growing numbers of students from these countries are currently studying in the U.S. What’s more, shrinking budgets are forcing international recruitment professionals to adopt low cost, high impact strategies. Focusing on the aforementioned countries seems like a logical step.But what about Japan? While recruitment experimentation in unproven areas may be considered a comparably low Return On Investment proposition, Japan is anything but unproven. To be sure, we have witnessed a significant decline in Japanese student enrollments in the U.S. over the past 5-10 years:

Academic Year    Japanese students in the U.S.
2001-02         46,810
2002-03         45,960
2003-04         40,835
2004-05         42,215
2005-06         38,712
2006-07         35,282
2007-08         33,974
2008-09         29,264
2009-10         24,842
2010-11         21,290

Data from Open Doors: http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students/Leading-Places-of-Origin

However, in absolute terms Japan today is #7 on the Open Doors list of leading sending countries. And, it is #4 among both intensive English language programs and community colleges, respectively.

Savvy investors routinely boast of how their success derived from buying when others were selling (and refraining from doing the opposite.) Forgive the rough-edged metaphor, but could investing in Japan be effective, counterintuitive though it may feel?

Like any relationship worth having, partnerships with Japanese schools, agencies, and others – from Hokkaido to Kyushu – reveal their true value slowly, and over time. At Ohlone College we have taken the long view in Japan, and we’ve seen results. While modest in absolute terms, we are pleased with our Japanese student enrollment growth: about 2 dozen more Japanese students today than 5 years prior. What’s more, we see credible signs that this growth will continue.

A little more than a year ago a Tokyo-based colleague asked me if schools in the U.S. were giving up on Japan. Looking back on that now, the question pains me a bit, for 2 reasons: 1) I felt the answer in some cases might be yes; and 2) I don’t think it has to be.

Post authored by California ETEC Board Member- Eddie West,  Dean of Counseling and International Programs,  Ohlone College, Fremont, CA.