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Welcome, international students; Local universities and colleges step up recruitment overseas

The University at Buffalo has long had a reputation for attracting international students.

In fact, new figures show UB ranks among the Top 20 institutions in the nation for international students, with nearly 5,400 last year.

But overseas recruiting is also starting to pay off for Canisius College.

Fredonia State College has doubled its international enrollment from two years ago.

Daemen College has a foot in the door in China.

And even Erie Community College has opened an office to accommodate more foreign students.

Now, a record number of international students are studying in the United States, as more and more colleges – big and small, public and private – step up their recruiting overseas, a new study shows.

"There are a couple factors," said Peggy Blumenthal, a senior official with the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit that tracks international enrollment and study abroad. "The first, and most obvious, is financial."

International students typically aren't awarded financial aid and pay full out-of-state tuition, which for public institutions in New York is more than double what in-state residents pay.

That helps keep campus programs running and financial aid flowing to domestic students, Blumenthal said, particularly in recent years when universities have been hit hard by state budget cuts and declining endowments.

A shrinking pool of domestic students is another reason behind the foreign recruitment.

Regions around the U.S. – including the Buffalo area – are losing population and project fewer graduates coming out of high school over the next several years.

So, diversifying enrollment is just sound strategy, said John Wood, senior vice provost for international education at UB.

"If we want to maintain or grow our enrollment, we need to seek students elsewhere, including students from other states and overseas," Wood said.

But colleges say there's another motivation for looking to other countries for students.

"It's not just for the purposes of increasing our enrollments," said Tim Downs, vice president for academic affairs at Niagara University. "It's exposing our Western New York students to people around the world."

"We're turning into a global market. We need to provide a global education," said Donna Shaffner, dean of admissions at Canisius. "Instead of looking at this as a profit center, we're looking at it as an initiative to globalize our campus."

It can be a sensitive issue.

It's not uncommon to hear complaints that domestic students are being denied seats, specifically at public colleges and universities.

On the other hand, Blumenthal said, foreign students make up only 4 percent of the total enrollment at U.S. institutions.

And in some cases, she said, schools need to recruit overseas to fill programs, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

"It's a hard reality for the American student who didn't get into the school of their first choice," Blumenthal said. "Schools want to get the very smartest kids they can. It used to be you were competing with kids from outside the state. Now, you're competing with kids from all over the world."

The number of international students studying in the U.S. grew 6 percent last year to a record high of 764,495, according to the recently released report published by the Institute of International Education.

That's a 31 percent increase from a decade ago.

For the first time in 12 years, there are more foreign undergraduates than graduate students studying in the U.S., thanks largely to strong growth in the number of students from China. Rounding out the top five were India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada.

"For Chinese [students], an American diploma is more valuable," said Guangzhi Huang, a UB graduate student. "There is the perception that a U.S. education is top notch."

Huang, 28, from China, and Anish Paul-Antony, also 28, from India, are pursuing doctoral degrees at UB while working in the university's Office of International Student Services.

Paul-Antony earned his undergraduate degree in India, then used a consultant to help him narrow the list of U.S. schools where he could finish his advanced studies in electrical engineering.

He eventually chose UB, which was less expensive and where he already knew a couple friends from back home.

"UB is very welcoming in terms of helping international students adapt to their new environment," Paul-Antony said.

UB spent years building up its international enrollment to 5,357 students, which is now the 19th largest among U.S. institutions. But Wood, the vice provost, is well-aware of how intense the competition is for foreign students, as UB bumps into many more American schools during its overseas recruiting trips.

"It's a major focus for us," said Michael Barone, director of public relations at Fredonia State.

A partnership with a university in South Korea has helped Fredonia boost its international enrollment to some 200 by this spring, up from 75 two years ago, Barone said. The college is eyeing similar arrangements with schools in China and Australia.

Canisius has some 90 international students on campus, but it has taken part in several overseas recruiting tours the past couple years and is close to partnering with another institution to boost the college's international enrollment, Shaffner said.

Several years ago, Daemen set a goal of tripling its international enrollment of roughly 100 students after signing formal agreements with two universities in China.

Meanwhile, ECC – which has about 90 international students – recently started an Office for International Students to process more overseas applications

While the college doesn't formally recruit overseas, it's getting some spin-off from UB, said Richard Washousky, executive vice president for academic affairs.

"The students seem like they're coming in ones and twos and threes from all places," Washousky said. "They seem to be looking at how to get into the University at Buffalo by starting at the community college."


Luring international students

The University at Buffalo is among the top 20 U.S. universities with the most international students.

Institution / International students

1. University of Southern California 9,269

2. University of Illinois 8,997

3. New York University 8,660

4. Purdue University 8,563

5. Columbia University 8,024

6. UCLA 6,703

7. Northeastern University 6,486

8. University of Michigan 6,382

9. Michigan State University 6,209

10. Ohio State University 6,142

11. Indiana University 6,123

12. Penn State University 6,075

13. Boston University 6,041

14. University of Minnesota 5,661

15. Arizona State University 5,616

16. University of Florida 5,588

17. Harvard University 5,453

18. University of Washington 5,372

19. University at Buffalo 5,357

20. University of Texas-Austin 5,324

Source: Institute of International Education, 2011-12