U ranks high for international enrollment

by Karlee Weinmann

Despite a drop in international student enrollment since the 2005-06 academic year, the University is still recognized as a top host institution.

A report issued Nov. 13 by the Institute of International Education placed the University 20th in the nation in terms of the number of international students enrolled, with 3,384 students categorized as international of a total 51,175 students, according to the 2006 report.

Additionally, data from the same firm showed there are 8,709 international students in the state, ranking Minnesota 19th for the most international students overall.

Since the 2005 report was issued, the state saw an overall 2.6 percent spike in international student enrollment, following suit with the rest of the nation.

Based on data compiled from the approximately 900 institutions in the IIE network, U.S. postsecondary education institutions have seen an upsurge across the board, with an 8.3 percent increase in international student enrollment in the last year.

The New York-based institute issues annual “Open Doors” reports that evaluate the current collegiate climate for international students in the United States, as well as other reports that assess the frequency and chosen destinations for American students studying abroad.

Daniel Obst, director of membership and higher education services for IIE, said the aim of the organization is to facilitate internationalizing of campuses worldwide.

“We work on providing (universities) with research and statistics that give an understanding of international exchange activities,” Obst said.

A committee within the University of Minnesota’s International Student and Scholar Services heads international recruitment efforts, said Director Kay Thomas.

Recently, work to enhance the University’s image on a worldwide scale has become more intensive and calculated, she said.

In the last year and a half, University recruiters traveled to India, Turkey, Canada, Malaysia and eastern Asia.

The nine University-staffed recruiters travel to conventions in other countries, in which U.S. postsecondary institutions aim to draw students to America to continue education.

The University is also listed with Hobsons, a networking firm that helps link universities with prospective students, an initiative Thomas labeled effective.

“We use the opportunities we have to get the name of the University out there in a way that is deliberate,” she said.

Thomas said there are factors that might inhibit the expansion of the international student body at the University.

“There have been challenges since 9/11,” she said, listing immigration regulations that make it difficult for students to obtain visas. “It’s getting better, but it’s still not completely easy.”

Two years ago, the University cut an English language program, a step Thomas said may have steered non-native speakers away from the University.

“Some students score high enough in the proficiency exams, but don’t have the confidence (in their abilities),” she said.

A small subcommittee at the ISSS worked to get the program reinstated, and it will again be a part of curriculum in fall 2007, Thomas said.

Recruitment efforts continue to evolve, and the recruitment committee has begun to centralize its focus on undergraduate students.

“We want to increase the number of (international) undergrads by 1,000 in the next 10 years – which is ambitious,” she said.

Information systems management first-year student Faisal Al Khouri, who is from United Arab Emirates, said he is not at the University based on his own choice and doesn’t know what the University has to offer to current international students.

“I’m here because I got a scholarship and the scholarship company decided this school was best for me,” he said.

Al Khouri hasn’t made use of services offered by the ISSS and wasn’t directly recruited, but he said his experience here has been positive.

“I don’t know about any of that (ISSS) stuff,” he said. “(But) what do I like about here? Everything.”

First-year economics student Abdulaziz Alsalim, from Saudi Arabia, chose to come to the University after seeing it ranked highly among chemical engineering programs.

He utilized ISSS services at the beginning of the semester and also plans to go there to get a new visa.

Though not specifically recruited, Alsalim visited the campus in January, when his attendance was solidified.

“It’s been a wonderful experience so far,” he said. “I’m thankful I’m here and that I chose to come to the ‘U.’ “