In 2012, the University of Delaware began an initiative to increase its international student enrollment and to develop tailored services for its international community. As a result, the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) has experienced tremendous growth, seeing a 200+ percent increase since 2009 in the number of international students attending the 22,000+ student university. Now serving an average of 5,000 international students, scholars, and dependents each year, our department has grown from a team of four to 18 professionals managing immigration services and 100+ dedicated programs.

Given this growth, our paper-based registration and advising system wasn’t efficient or sustainable. We needed a way to meet the challenges of managing international student programs and compliance at scale. We implemented Terra Dotta’s ISSS software to offer students a better registration and advising process and ensure reliable compliance standards. Here are some of the improvements this technology-driven process has allowed us to make.

1. Integrate SEVIS compliance for enhanced visa support
For Delaware and other universities, automating the international registration and advising process, as well as SEVIS compliance, provides faster, more effective U.S. visa support and document services—a critical concern for international students. Offering streamlined SEVIS reporting and immigration alerts and communication allows our international students to focus on their education instead of becoming consumed by their visa status.

We have established dedicated student and scholar profiles via an online portal where students can review current and past applications and programs. We send email reminders to complete specific tasks, and students and scholars can opt in to receive alert communications through text messaging.

As the transition to American society and culture can be challenging, we now offer more automated pre-arrival support and orientation and targeted communication and alerts—all geared to improving the international student experience. Students and scholars can log on to their individualized online profile and complete several tasks, such as learning modules about U.S. academic culture, immigration requirements, and what to expect upon arrival.

2. Reduce tedious manual tasks and increase application processing
For the University of Delaware’s OISS, reducing the burden of high-volume data entry while increasing SEVIS compliance and reporting and efficiency has enabled a transformation in the programs and services the office can now develop and offer.
We are now able to spend more time on program development and priority advising services as tedious manual processes such as scanning and completing forms have been automated.

Moving to a paperless workflow reduced the registration process from 3-4 weeks down to 7-10 days. Orientation productivity improvements have also been significant as students can now upload documents, and the OISS team can track the number of applications and form requests handled by staff. This reporting provides a better understanding of the staff workload and traffic flow into the office, and in turn, allows the office to allocate appropriate resources and support as needed.

3. Spend more time on creating innovative programs
To provide new international students with a smooth transition and a more welcoming campus environment, the office has implemented a scalable international “buddy” program. University staff are developing an app that matches international and domestic students based on similar interests and majors. Using a 5-star rating system on a matching questionnaire and demographic information, the buddy matching program supports compatibility and greatly reduces the staff burden usually associated with pairing students of like interests. To kick off the program, OISS has engaged a team of UD student leaders to guide the process and will launch its first international buddy program this summer to serve more than 600 incoming international students.

This technology-driven approach to international student recruitment, onboarding, and retention is already having far-reaching impacts on our international community. The automation process has resulted in enhanced immigration compliance—protecting university risk and providing peace of mind for our international students and scholars.

By reducing registration process times more than 60 percent we’ve been able to add new support programs for our international community, which helps ensure a more successful U.S. higher education experience.

About the Author:

Ravi Ammigan is the executive director, office for international students & scholars, at the University of Delaware.


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