Number of foreign students on rise in state colleges

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan colleges and universities are seeing an increase in international student enrollment, according to the Institute for International Education.

            The nonprofit organization, which researches and promotes international exchange opportunities in education, said Michigan ranked eighth in hosting foreign students, and the total number of international students in the nation increased by 3 percent from last year.

            “This year we’ve had a dramatic increase in our international student population,” said Rehema Clarken, coordinator of international students and scholars at Northern Michigan University. “It’s been up about 15 percent.”

            Clarken attributed some of that growth to NMU’s agreement with a Chinese university to transfer credits. However, she also noted that the American dollar is weak compared to other currencies, making it more affordable for foreign students to attend college in the U.S.

            “We also compete with European countries, Australia and New Zealand for international students, and their economies are doing a little better than ours, which makes their money worth more, which then makes it more expensive” to study in those places, Clarken said.

“So while it’s bad for us to have such a poor economy, it’s actually great for our education system because we get more international students,” she said.

            International students contribute significantly to the economy of their school’s community, said Mark Schaub, executive director of the Padnos International Center at Grand Valley State University.

            “They don’t get discounted tuition, so these students are paying as much or more than the domestic students to attend the university,” Schaub said.

Grand Valley had a record 322 international students this year.

“They can only bring two suitcases, so they have to acquire possessions for their dorm or off-campus housing,” he said. “In many cases they purchase a car. Every one of those purchases brings more money, more sales tax to the area and helps the tuition at the university.” 

Schaub added that although the economic boost is great, the cultural diversity and different perspectives foreign students bring are their most important contributions to the campus and community.

International students also have a positive economic effect locally in the long-term, said Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

            “International students lead to new investment and job creation opportunities,” Boulus said. “More than 33 percent of U.S. start-up companies were founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs over the last decade.”

            The institute’s annual report estimated that international students spent about $658 billion in Michigan during the 2008-09 school year.

            An analysis from the Association of International Educators calculated their economic contribution to individual campuses and their surrounding communities. It estimated the impact at about $1.7 million at NMU; $7.3 million at Grand Valley; $129.9 million at Michigan State University; $8.7 million at Oakland University; $4.7 million at Ferris State University; and $30.4 million at Western Michigan University.

            Peter Briggs, the director of the Office for International Students and Scholars at MSU said the university’s population of international students has been growing steadily, and the proportion of undergraduate to graduate students is also changing. 

            “Fall of 2009 was the first year we had more undergraduate than graduate students in the international community,” Briggs said. “And that’s been the same this year as well.”

            Briggs added that MSU has seen a particular influx of undergraduates from China. In 2005 the university had 43 Chinese undergraduates – in 2010, that number was 1,649.

            Officials from NMU, Oakland and Western Michigan also noted an increase in the percentage of international students pursuing an undergraduate degree, as well as the number from China. 

            “At Oakland, we’ve seen an increase in international students of about 8 to 10 percent over the year,” said Petra Knoche, its assistant director of international students and scholars. “Our largest populations are from India, then China and also Canadians. We’ve also seen more students from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

            Ferris also experienced an increase in students from China and Saudi Arabia, according to Luzia Tartari, its international recruitment adviser.

Tartari added that most schools, including Ferris, that actively recruit non-U.S. students advertise in international education publications and travel around the world to education fairs and foreign schools to attract students to Michigan colleges and universities.

            In addition to economic forces, more efficient and effective methods of processing visas give the U.S. an advantage in drawing students from around the globe, said Juan Tavares, general manager of international enrollment at Western Michigan.

            “I think the growth is going to continue,” Tavares said. “Education in the U.S. is one of the last excellent things we can export. Our educational system is better than all.”

            The top three states in international enrollment are California, New York and Texas, the Institute for International Education reported. 

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