Colleges enrolling record number of international students

Many of international scholars are from China.

International students are enrolling at some local colleges in record numbers, due in large part to a nationwide surge in undergraduates from China.

Wright State University, Miami University and University of Dayton this year all shattered their previous enrollment records for international students, and Chinese students accounted for 46 percent of their combined foreign-student populations, according to the schools.

About 1,268 Chinese students are attending the three universities this year, and enrollment of Chinese students across Ohio continues to grow at a time when enrollment of students from other countries has slowed or declined, a new report found.

Local college officials said international students promote cultural diversity on campus and expose American students to foreign perspectives that will prepare them for life and work in a global marketplace. They also inject $662 million into the Ohio economy, according to Open Doors 2011, a report released this week by the New York-based Institute of International Education.

As for the foreign students themselves, officials said they value degrees from U.S. colleges because the country’s higher education system is revered worldwide, and there are limited top-notch educational opportunities in their homelands.

“There are many wonderful and excellent foreign universities (but) the problem, especially in high population countries like China and India, is that they are relatively limited in number and highly selective,” said Stephen Foster, associate vice president for international affairs with Wright State University. “Thus, the competition for entrance is so severe, that only a tiny portion of many, many highly qualified students have any chance of entrance.”

China exporting students to Ohio

Across Ohio, the number of international students enrolled at colleges and universities increased by 10.5 percent to a record 24,709 in 2010, up from 22,370 in 2009, according to the report.

About 8,401 of those students in Ohio last year, or about 34 percent, hailed from China, up from an estimated 6,330 in 2009, according to the report.

By comparison, the number of students at Ohio colleges from India, the second largest sender of international students, declined to about 4,225 in 2010 from about 4,515 in 2009.

Nationwide, the number of students enrolled at U.S. colleges from India decreased by 1 percent from 2009 to 2010, and the number of international students from South Korea, the third largest sender, increased by a modest 2 percent, the report said.

But the number of Chinese students rose by 23 percent last year to 157,558, and the number of Chinese undergraduates increased by 43 percent.

U.S. gets high grades

Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president of the Institute of International Education, said many students from China choose to attend American colleges because of limited higher-education options at home.

The quality of America’s educational system is trusted around the world because it has accreditation standards and academic measurements, she said. Many foreigners are also interested in learning English, and American colleges have distinguished business and engineering programs.

“The best of the best who can get into the top schools in China are most often staying in China, but there is only a limited number of spaces at those schools,” she said. “Parents have to decide whether they want to send their children to a second- or third-rate Chinese institution or to a U.S. institution.”

Zhiqi Chen, who is studying journalism at Miami University, is from the Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in China. Chen has already earned a bachelor’s degree from Communication University of China in Beijing, but she decided to attend Miami to “slow down” her career track a little and give her a chance for new experiences.

“I decided it was time to make a change in my life,” she said. “I just wanted to enjoy a different life and be truly independent.”

Chen said U.S. colleges have global appeal because they are known for encouraging creativity and critical thinking.

Explosion in growth

In five years, Miami University has seen its international-student population nearly triple to 970 this year from 345 in fall 2006.

About 681 undergraduate and graduate students from China enrolled at Miami this year, up 833 percent from 73 in 2006, according to the school. The school added more than 100 Chinese students between last year and this year.

The University of Dayton also has watched as its international students shoot up to 1,009 this fall from about 400 in 2009. About 446 of the students are from China, up 70 percent from fall 2010 and 266 percent from 2009. By comparison, Saudi Arabia is the school’s second largest sender of students with 168 this year.

David Keitges, director of international education with Miami University, said China’s economy is booming and the expansion of its middle class has provided more Chinese families with the ability to afford the best education their children can obtain abroad, which is often found in the United States.

He said also that China’s one-child only policy means that families can focus their finances on sending one son or daughter to school instead of multiple children. Keitges acknowledges that attending school abroad in the United States is far more expensive than enrolling at home, but he says U.S. degrees pay off.

International students usually pay full, out-of-state tuition, and they are ineligible for financial aid from the U.S. government. Some, however, earn scholarships or assistantships.

Recruiting efforts

Chen, the journalism student, said she learned about Miami University from her cousin, who lives in Toledo. But she researched the school online, liked what she saw and applied.

College officials said it is important to have a strong Web presence to market their programs, but they also rely on international recruiters and partnerships with colleges abroad.

The University of Dayton also runs a program that brings international high school and college students to the campus for a short time to allow them to experience life on an American campus, said Aleksandar Popovski, UD’s associate director for graduate and international admission.

Wright State this year signed dual-degree agreements with four universities in China that allows Chinese students to seek graduate degrees from the school. The college also has a student-exchange agreement with Dalian Jiaotong University in China in which the school sends students to Wright State to complete master’s programs in engineering and business.

“Seventy of our 141 Chinese students come from Dalian Jiaotong University — they are graduate students,” said Foster, associate vice president for international affairs with the university.

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