By Monica Chapman
One in a series of Outlook stories examining enrollment and retention.
A global experience from the comfort of home. That's what Josep Rota had in mind when he took over as associate provost for international affairs in 1997.
Ideally, all Ohio University students would study abroad, he said. But the next best thing is to bring the world to Athens through increased international recruiting.
Besides bolstering the student experience, the practice has enhanced overall institutional health in the face of economic uncertainty and a shrinking pool of Ohio students. And if this year's numbers are any indication, Ohio University's recruitment efforts are on track. As of Friday, 419 international students had enrolled as undergraduates, up more than 150 from the previous year and well more than double enrollment at this time in 2006. The number of international graduate students increased by 10 this year, to 1,019 students.
"We have widely exceeded the growth rate set by the university," Rota said. "The plan calls for a growth of 2 percent per year, and we are growing far, far faster than that."
Of the university's new undergraduate international population, 77 percent are from China -- up from 22 percent in fall 2006. During this same period, Ohio University's total Chinese undergraduate population increased tenfold, to 276 students, from 26. The increase, according to Coordinator of International Outreach and Recruitment Vicki West, is a direct result of targeted recruiting efforts.
"China is a hugely growing market at the undergraduate level," West said. "It's a primary recruiting spot for most universities."
According to West, China's one-child policy means parents are putting all of their financial resources toward their sole offspring, and a growing middle class has more resources to spread around.
Ohio University's efforts to attract more Chinese students are helped by international recruiting agencies, the use of which is widely debated in higher education.
Some high education administrators question a system that allows colleges to pay advisers if students choose to attend their institution -- an approach they fear could taint the college admissions process. But according to Rota, the potential benefits of recruiting agents far outweigh the drawbacks.
"Some sales people are dishonest; some physicians are incompetent. The vast majority are not,'' Rota said. "The same applies to working with agents. Some agents are unethical; most agents are not. And our responsibility is to work with agents who engage in responsible practices in this professional field."
The increased use of recruiting agents helped Ohio University re-establish its international student population in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.
In fall 2006, the university began to reverse a four-year downward trend in international student enrollment. This fall, international student enrollment exceeded that of fall 2001 for the first time.
"[International recruiting] is a practice that we all have to consider because it's the only safe way to really increase our numbers substantially and rapidly," Rota said.
But Rota added that ethical standards need to govern such recruiting efforts.
In June, Rota and University of Cincinnati Vice President International Mitch Leventhal founded the American International Recruitment Council. The nonprofit council works with American universities and international recruitment agencies to develop ethical standards for international recruitment.
Fourteen universities, including Ohio University, are affiliated with the AIRC. Rota, who serves as its vice president, said the organization already has identified five reputable agents and hopes to establish a framework so that participating agents can have their practices certified.
Many international students said they would not have been aware of Ohio University if it weren't for recruiting agencies. Others said the agencies assisted with translation and other technicalities of the application process.
Tianjiao "Clare" Chen, a Chinese native majoring in physics and mechanical engineering at Ohio University, used a recruiting agent to help her with application and VISA processes.
According to Chen, college options are limited in China, and many students are turning to education abroad as an alternative. Recruiting agencies help the process along, she said.
"I appreciate the (recruitment) efforts that colleges are making," Chen said. "Many (Chinese) students do need this opportunity to come here and study. They deserve this opportunity."
India sent more students to U.S. colleges and universities in 2006-07 than any other country, followed by China, South Korea, Taiwan and Canada. At Ohio University, the largest number of international students come from China and India, respectively. Ghana provides the third-largest contingent of international students.
Freshman accounting major Min Wong of Shanghai said she chose Ohio University for its historic campus and the reputation of its business college.
"It's a quiet atmosphere. It's good for my study," said Wong, who learned of Ohio University through an education fair and the Internet. "The foreigners are friendly. They help me to improve my English. And the teachers are very professional."
Global recruitment also has positive ramifications for the region.
In 2006-07, international students contributed $14.5 billion to the U.S. economy, including $427 million in Ohio, according to an economic impact study published by the Institute of International Education. Based on an average per-pupil expenditure of $22,953, Rota estimates that international students will contribute more than $29 million to the local economy this year alone.
The flow of students runs both ways. Director of Education Abroad Catherine Marshall said 904 Ohio students studied abroad in 2006-07.
That's about 6 percent of Ohio University students -- nearly four times the national average, Rota said. "What about the remaining 94 percent who can't go abroad?" he asked. "We bring the world to Athens."