Magazine article University Business

Wanted: Foreign Students

Magazine article University Business

Wanted: Foreign Students

Article excerpt

THE GOOD NEWS: Foreign enrollments at American colleges and universities are rebounding from 9/11-related losses.

THE BAD NEWS: Competition for international students is fiercer than ever.

ON AN EARLY MORNING in late May, nearly two dozen students looking to register for Boston University's summer term are already camped out in a waiting room. One student from Korea sports a Red Sox cap. A young woman wears a hajib, the traditional Islamic headscarf. Dozens of others, dressed in blue jeans or shorts, form a line before a "welcome" desk that's stacked with forms.

A world map filled with stickpins extends across one wall, along with the question, "Where in the world are you from?" A sign-up sheet nearby advertises an orientation scavenger hunt, followed by a detailed and mostly monosyllabic explanation of what a scavenger hunt is.

"Do you have your passport and I-20 with you?" asks a student receptionist to the next person in line, as she shuffles a pile of yellow SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) forms that will soon be headed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "Please have your F1 visa and I-94 card ready for copying," she reminds everyone within earshot.

These are some of BU's almost 5,600 international undergraduate and graduate students from 135 countries, and this morning they're occupying the school's Center for English Language and Orientation Programs (CELOP) space, where many will return over the next few weeks for intensive English courses.

Like many U.S. colleges and universities, BU has been trying to maintain its population of foreign students in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The school has done well in comparison. Since 2002, BU's foreign student population has remained largely unchanged and ranks among the top 10 in the United States.

The annual Open Doors survey of 2,700 American higher education institutions by the Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C., tells a different story. IIE reports that in 2003-2004, foreign enrollment nationwide dropped by 2.4 percent and by another 1.3 percent the following year before leveling off in 2005-2006 (the most recent year for which lie has national data) to almost 565,000, a total decline of almost 22,000.

What's more, before the events of 9/11 raised the requirements for F1 visas and the anxieties of foreign students considering a U.S. education, American schools could count on at least a 5 percent annual increase. "We had experienced nonstop growth," recalls Bruce Rindler, associate director of Boston University's CELOP. "We were doing very little marketing and were seeing more and more students coming to us."

And while many schools say they are again building their foreign enrollments--a statement backed up by the Open Doors report, which showed aF1 percent increase in new students for 2005-2006--they are facing greater challenges than ever before in attracting students. In another recent IIE study of 1,000 member institutions of higher ed, more than half indicated they have increased their recruitment efforts at a time when universities in Europe, China, and a host of English-speaking countries are doing the same.

The Fallout from 9/11

Rindler says his office has had to deal with international crises before, including the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the SARS scare in the late-1990s, but the 9/11 attacks had a much larger impact. "We have quite a cohort from the Middle East," he points out. "When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 1991, I remember thinking, 'My God, nobody's going to come here.' Everybody came. But in 2001, our Middle Eastern population from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates dried up overnight." Some students who did come over endured more than a long flight. "There were all kinds of stories," Rindler continues, "particularly of people who went home for vacation and couldn't get back, or people here who suffered through the FBI knocking on their doors. …

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