Posted: 7:00 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014

EDUCATION

Ohio wants more international students to come here for college

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Ohio wants more international students to come here for college photo
Miami University international students Laiwen Yao of China, and Nozomi Tanaka of Japan, work on a Japanese language tutoring session at the Armstrong student center on campus.
Ohio wants more international students to come here for college photo
Lorraine Kudayah, of Togo, West Africa, a part time student worker at the Global Initiatives Advising and Consulting Center at McMillan Hall, schedules an appointment for Bihong Li of China.
Ohio wants more international students to come here for college photo
Miami University international student Bihong Li of China, checks in at the reception desk of the Global Initiatives Advising and Consulting Center at McMillan Hall.

By Amanda Seitz

Staff Writer

As Ohio’s public universities are admitting more international students than ever, state officials are also devising a plan to market Ohio to prospective out-of-country undergraduates.

The Ohio Board of Regents starts work this week on recommendations, which will later be presented to the state legislators by the end of this year, to make Ohio a hot spot for international students. The hope is Ohio might better compete with other states, such as California or New York, to win over out-of-country scholars.

“There’s more knowledge about the coastal states than the Midwestern ones (among international students),” said Lauren McGarity, the director of special projects at the Ohio Board of Regents. “One of the objectives is to create a comprehensive identity for the state of Ohio … to have different students from different countries think, ‘Maybe I’ll go to Ohio for my college education.’”

The board was charged this year by state lawmakers to make recommendations for a strategy. No funding has been allocated for the initiative.

At the same time, public universities have revved up recruiting efforts and lured more students from both out-of-state and out-country to attend school here in recent years.

Looking beyond

This newspaper requested admittance rates and figures from local public universities and found at some of the schools, the number of international students accepted at the institutions have doubled or nearly tripled during the last five years. For most the universities, the number of out-of-state students accepted has also been on the rise, while in-state student acceptance has stayed steady.

At Miami University, for example, more out-of-state students — 8,200 for this school year — applied and were admitted to the university, according to the school’s data. The school also admitted nearly 1,500 international students, three times the number of non-domestic applicants admitted in 2009.

University officials have been forced to recruit outside of the state because Ohio’s high school graduating classes are dwindling, Michael Kabbaz, the vice president of enrollment management at Miami University, said. In 2012, the number of Ohio students enrolling in an Ohio public school fell by 1,000 to 51,600, according to the state’s latest available data.

“It’s really critical to step back and look at the landscape of the Midwest,” Kabbaz said. “The demographics in Ohio aren’t enough to support the institutions in Ohio. We have to expand our reach just to meet our goals at Miami University. When you look at the number of high school graduates, the Midwest is really the epicenter of decline.”

Officials at universities across the state say they work with agencies to recruit students across the world, although mainly in India and China, and some even have their recruiters stationed around the world to recruit. Miami has a full-time recruiter, who’s an alumnus of the university.

This year, Miami sent six employees to help host an orientation for students and their parents in Beijing. Ohio State University — which accepted 2,758 international students for this year, a 222 percent increase since 2009 — hosted two pre-departure orientations in Shanghai and Beijing for a second time this year. Roughly 900 students and their parents attended the events, Vern Granger, the director of undergraduate admissions at OSU, said.

“The pre-departure orientation was about getting students to understand what they’re going to need to take responsibility for their academic progress, their transition and letting them know that we have a lot of resources that are in place,” said Granger.

Diversifying

International students, college experts say, diversify the college experience for American students.

“Students’ critical learning goes up when you have a diversity of different perspectives that are brought to the classroom,” Granger said.

International students are also big money makers for universities. Universities — including OSU, UC and Miami, — require students to show proof that they can pay for the entirety of their schooling. For students coming from out-of-country, that’s not a cheap venture. Foreigners don’t qualify for federal or state financial aid and most colleges don’t make financial aid — with the exception of some merit based scholarships — available to those students.

An international student had paid an estimated $43,000 last year in tuition, fees as well as room and board, for a year at Miami University. Meanwhile, an in-state student paid $24,000, on average, and had access to more financial aid.

“Because we have limited aid available, we’ll have an amazing international student that we, frankly, can’t support financially,” Kabbaz said.

Out-of-country students attending UC or OSU will also pay between $40,000 and $45,000 for school and living expenses in one year.

Translation, please

The initiative for universities to grow their international student population has presented some challenges.

At University of Cincinnati, for instance, college admission leaders made the decision to raise admittance standards for international students during the year’s application, Jon Weller, the director of international admissions at the school, said.

Most universities use the TOEFL, an English proficiency exam, to test a student’s skills for admittance. Until this year, UC had accepted a final score on that test but, now, students must achieve a minimum score on the writing and speaking portions for the tests. Some international applicants, Weller said, have learned how to “beat”, the test and score high on the overall exam while scoring poorly on the speaking or written portion of the test.

That led professors to complain about some students’ English skills.

“There’s been an effort, particularly at the request of some of our colleges, to ratchet up the English ability of some of these students,” Thomas Canepa, the associate vice president for admissions at UC, said.

University of Cincinnati has nearly doubled their international student population since 2009 to more than 500 this year; but that figure stayed steady this year, partly as a result of the new requirements, Canepa said.

Earlier this year, too, when professors at the University of Dayton took a “no-confidence” vote in the university’s provost, faculty members cited their frustration with the push to recruit international students, some who faculty say didn’t meet admission standards and struggled with the English language, as a point of contention.

That’s one of the kinks the Ohio Board of Regents has been tasked with fixing in their development strategy to attract and retain international students in Ohio.

The board will consult with representatives from the state’s 114 higher education institutions, business owners, immigration experts, as well as federal and state officials to develop a plan. Everything from the immigration process to how international students can benefit other students will be addressed.

State officials also hope recruiting from other countries can help Ohio grow it’s educated workforce, McGarity said.

“We believe that post-secondary education is a bridge to a more upscale workforce, no matter who you are and where you are,” McGarity said.

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