By Michelle McConnaughey, The Daily Iowan 
The University of Iowa has stepped up international recruitment in recent years, with the vast majority of foreign students coming from China. Now, they are looking for potential Hawkeyes in the country with the world’s second-largest population — India.
Fewer than 1 percent of the UI’s international students come from India, and now UI officials believe they have found a cost-effective — though historically controversial — way to reach out.
The UI is the first college in the United States or Canada to join the new international program Gen Next, a Minnesota-based social benefit organization focuses on improving the access to quality education for students worldwide.
“It can be risky and expensive to set up individual offices in different parts of the world,” said Downing Thomas, the dean of UI International Programs. “But Gen Next is a cost-effective way to provide education and expose culture.”
The program plans to set up facilities to be shared by up to 25 institutions in various parts of the world. Potential international students will then have access to representatives from dozens of universities in one building.
The UI’s move follows a flurry of intense international recruitment, with the UI going from no international recruiting trips in 2007 to 19 trips and 15 countries in the fall of 2009.
While officials laud the increased diversity these students bring to campus, they also help fulfill the goal of increasing enrollment by 100 students a year over the next five years. And with a price tag of $150,000, officials attracted 555 first-year international students, bringing in millions of dollars in tuition.
Historically, some programs similar to the one the UI is joining have been controversial.
“Gen Next is a cost-effective way to provide education and expose culture.” – Downing Thomas
John Deupree, the executive director of the American International Recruitment Council, said, historically, some agencies have taken advantage of students, charging them large sums of money when placing them in an American school.
“Some argue charging any amount of money to a student is unethical,” Deupree said.
Girish Ballolla, Gen Next’s CEO, said his organization is not based on commission and it does not charge students or universities a per capita fee.
“Colleges and universities need a physical presence on the ground to be promoted in countries such as India,” Ballolla said.
Gen Next officials said some agencies engage in extra commission charges because of the struggling economy, but Gen Next strongly disagrees with recruiting in unethical ways.
For $30,000 a year, a college secures a full membership to Gen Next’s services, including International Knowledge Centers and Global Academic Programs.
The first Gen Next facility will open in the next two months in Bangalore, India.
Joining the program could increase the UI’s networking with foreign education institutions as well, Thomas said.
The UI Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, the UI’s organization for international recruitment, is also looking for ways to reach more students in India. The center currently collaborates with centers in Sydney, Australia and Alberta, Canada to identify gifted students.
And though other universities have yet to sign on with Gen Next, similar efforts exist.
“We only develop partnerships with different institutions abroad, but Gen Next sounds like a unique way to become more diverse,” said Anne Marie Mountz, assistant director of public information at Pennsylvania State University.
“It’s important for people to study in different countries so we can get to know different cultures,” said UI freshman Chengxi Yang, who is from China. “Also, some countries like the United States have a better education system.”