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  • Adam Rubin

How are challenges facing the airline industry similar to those facing international education today

Up in the Air

Like many of you in international education, I’ve spent a good portion of my career up in the air on airplanes. I love flying, particularly if it involves traveling to an exciting new destination or returning home after a long trip.

photo courtesy of Google images /execflyer, "Busiest Airports in the World." 2017

In recent years, however, air travel has become more complicated—increased delays and cancellations, overcrowded planes with smaller seats, and confusing loyalty programs. In many ways, it strikes me that the field of international education is facing some of the same challenges.

Over the years, our collective efforts to increase student access, reduce barriers to study abroad, and grow overall enrollments have placed considerable pressure on our institutions and organizations. For some, the expansion of program options, introduction of new low-cost program providers, and "à la carte customization" available to schools, faculty, and students has been welcomed and celebrated.

For others, these changes have resulted in a confusing landscape of choices, concerns about quantity over quality, and overcrowding in popular cities and at academic centers around the world. Rapid expansion by some organizations has jeopardized established partnerships, overwhelmed staff, and potentially diluted their brands.

Chicken, Beef, or Pasta?

As someone who has been loyal to one airline for over 25 years, I’ve found myself frustrated recently by smaller seats, inconsistent customer support, and more frequent delays. Major airports are facing problems managing their capacity—juggling a limited number of runways and gates during peak hours, struggling with long security lines, and trying to manage take-off and landing requests from large commercial airlines, wealthy private jet owners, and recreational pilots in small Cessnas.

Many flight attendants struggle with the combination of special meal requests, heightened security concerns, and attempts to satisfy the individual passenger “give me what I want-or-I’ll-post-a-video-of-you-on-the-Internet” attitude that exists today.

Economy, Premium Economy, Business, First-Class, or Private Jet?

For international educators, we must balance the desire to expand options, increase customization, and reduce costs while keeping our long-term domestic and international partners happy, carefully managing our limited infrastructure, and maintaining the quality of our programs and services. Just as many low-cost airlines have come and gone, larger companies have merged, and competition for passengers has become fierce, our field now faces important opportunities and challenges as we address the changing and often complex needs of schools, faculty, and students.

The choices today are incredible, and all of us should be enthusiastic about the future. At the same time, we need to make sure that we are being careful and intentional about the way that we develop our planes, train our flight crew, and maintain the quality of our in-flight services, and, most importantly, that we have enough runways and gates to ensure a smooth and on-time flight for everyone.

Personally, I recommend conducting a careful capacity analysis and collaborating with field staff and top partners first in order to develop a strategic plan for new development and expansion that is sustainable, meets the needs of multiple groups, and, most importantly, allows your organization to maintain its overall quality and strengthen its brand. Similar to the airlines, I also believe that a hub and spoke approach can help study abroad organizations to expand capacity and avoid overwhelming key locations. Safe and productive travels to everyone!

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