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International students flock to Purdue, IU: State schools are national leaders in attracting foreign-born scholars

April 21, 2008

Purdue and Indiana universities have become magnets for international students. Purdue is third in foreign student enrollment among all U.S. private and public colleges and universities. Indiana is No. 15.

Another Big Ten school-the University of Illinois-is No. 2. The University of Southern California is the leader, with 7,000 foreign students.

Purdue currently has 4,994 foreign students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate programs, while IU has 4,027. This year, overall, there are about 39,102 students enrolled at Purdue's main campus and 38,990 at IU's.

The influx of students from around the globe has a dual benefit for the state, business leaders said.

"This shows these institutions can draw the best and brightest from around the world, and that reflects well on the entire state," said Roland Dorson, Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce president. "We need folks in this region who can offer their intellect and cultural insight. The business sector can draw from that."

The number of international students at Purdue and IU has spiked in the last two years as post-9/11 travel and visa restrictions have eased. Both schools have seen an increase of more than 10 percent in their population of international students since 2005.

While Indiana is not a renowned global destination like Southern California, many foreign students are drawn to Purdue and IU-where they pay the same tuition as American out-of-state students-for the schools' academic specialties.

Foreign students are drawn to West Lafayette primarily to study engineering, management, and physical and life sciences, Purdue officials said.

"In many instances, our reputation in research is key," said Michael Brzezinski, Purdue's associate dean of international programs and director of the school's International Students and Scholars program. "These are fields that are viewed with special emphasis by upper-middle- and upper-class families abroad." It's one thing to have stellar academic programs; it's another to inform students worldwide of a university's offerings. "We have been very aggressive in our recruitment, especially in the last decade, to bring the best and the brightest here from around the world," Brzezinski said. Students from around the globe are drawn to Blooming- ton to study business, visual and performing arts, education, social sciences, and computer science. IU has more foreign students studying visual and performing arts, 272, than any other U.S. college, according to the New York-based Institute of International Education.

Officials from Purdue and IU dispatch delegates to key international markets to attend college fairs and to speak to current college and high school students. About 50 percent to 60 percent of the international students at the schools during any one academic year are working on master's or doctoral degrees.

In addition to traditional marketing modes, IU actively recruits foreign students through its Web site, said Christopher Viers, Indiana's associate vice president for international services.

"We have good infrastructure in place to make international contacts," Viers said. "We think that's critical to our success."

Students from India make up the highest number of foreign students attending Purdue, followed by South Korea and China. Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Canada, Pakistan and Japan round out the top 10. In all, foreign students at Purdue come from 123 nations. Those numbers are similar at IU and other schools in the top 15.

The origin of Purdue's foreign students is often determined by which countries are developing economically. A growing economy, Brzezinski said, often leads to an increased interest in higher education and provides the economic means to achieve that. Also, a nation's interest in a particular education specialty-in Purdue's case, engineering and science-also has an impact on where foreign students come from, Brzezinski said.

In addition to its academic standing, Brzezinski said, the school has set up support services that help Purdue's reputation grow among international students.

"In some ways, the growth is very much word of mouth," he said.

Purdue offers services that help students obtain study visas and navigate other legal and immigration issues unique to foreign students. Purdue also offers on-campus orientation and other services geared toward foreign students.

"At Purdue, we're efficient and we're friendly, and we've become known among the international community for that as well as our academic excellence," Brzezinski said.

Officials in IU's Office of International Services developed iOffice, software that helps academies manage foreign student and scholar data. The program package has subsequently been licensed for use by other universities.

IU and Purdue spend tens of thousands of dollars to recruit and meet the needs of foreign students each year. Officials from both schools said the effort is well worth it.

"We think attracting international students is extremely important for our entire student body," Brzezinski said. "There's hardly a graduate of Purdue-in this current global economy-who, at some point, won't deal with someone from another culture. We want our students to see all the views from many cultures, and how people from different parts of the world address issues and solve problems right in the classroom. We think the effect of this goes far beyond the classroom. It's very enriching."

Viers echoed Brzezinski's sentiments.

"As [former IU President] Herman B Wells said, 'We're not only reaching out to the world, we're bringing the world to our doorstep,'" Viers said. "It's critically important that all of our students today understand what is happening globally. We think bringing international students to campus enhances exposure to global issues for all our students."

There's a financial impact as well on the local economy. During the 2006-2007 school year, the net contribution to the U.S. economy by foreign students and their families was $14.5 billion, according to the Institute of International Education. The annual economic impact from foreign students attending all Indiana colleges is $280 million.

The Chamber's Dorson said there are other benefits. Some of the students, he said, stay to work for domestic companies, while others travel back home with a positive impression of the Hoosier state and the educational and business climate here.

"Many of these international students will become tomorrow's corporate leaders around the world," Dorson said. "To have them exposed to Indiana, and what this area has to offer-that kind of exposure is really priceless."
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