By Vanessa Miller, SourceMedia Group News
For years, the University of Iowa’s international student population was on the decline, with the undergraduate count stuck at about 350 international students.
Hoping to reverse that trend, the university spent $115,000 in budget year 2007-08 on international recruitment, including sending staffers to recruiting fairs around the world. That investment has paid off, said Scott King, UI assistant dean of international programs.
“In the last four years, the number of international students has quadrupled,” King said.
In 2006, the university counted a total of 2,189 international students, including 380 undergraduates. This fall, 3,465 international students are enrolled, including 1,736 undergraduates.
“If we were not out there recruiting, we wouldn’t get the numbers we are getting,” King said.
The university invested no money in international recruiting before 2007. Its international recruitment budget for the current year sits at $150,000, King said.
This year’s international undergraduate count represents a 35 percent increase over the 1,283 international undergraduates in 2010 and a more than 350 percent increase over the 2006 count.
Why is it important? “That’s a lot of money coming into the state,” King said.
The increase in international undergraduate enrollments since 2007 has meant about $30-$33 million per year in increased tuition, King said.
They contribute about $67 million a year to the local economy, according to annual statistics compiled by the Association of International Educators. International students statewide contribute more than $245 million to Iowa each year, according to the association.
Plus, King said, the growing international presence on campus helps better prepare Iowa students for the increasingly global job market.
“They need to be able to interact globally to be successful in any career,” King said.
In 2010, the university’s international student populace represented 105 countries and territories. China had the largest representation with 1,312 students.
The University of Iowa sends staff members to fairs in all parts of the world, and this fall’s recruitment schedule includes stops in Asia, South America and the Middle East. King is Iowa’s representative in the Middle East, and he’s leaving again Sept. 30 for fairs in Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
King said the trips abroad are worth it, pointing to the growing international student population that, on average, has a graduation rate 1 percentage point higher than the UI’s overall rate, which was 69.6 percent for the six-year period that ended in fall 2010.
Rajiv Ranjan, 27, who came to the University of Iowa last year on a Fulbright scholarship from India, said he adores Iowa City and appreciates that the international student “family” is becoming ever larger.
“I was amazed to see the number of international students,” Ranjan said. “I thought, ‘Hardly anyone knows about Iowa, so how come so many students from other parts of the world ended up in Iowa?’ ”
After Ranjan’s first year at the university, he decided to stay and join the doctorate program.
“Frankly speaking, Iowa is heaven for me,” he said. “I didn’t like Chicago, New York City or Washington, D.C., as much as I like Iowa.”
Part of the community’s appeal is the people Ranjan has met.
“We have made an international family here,” he said. “Last Labor Day, we had a picnic, and there were 25 people from 17 different countries."
Ranjan said he credits the university for fostering such a diverse and large collection of international students.
“The way they treat international students is awesome,” he said. “It has encouraged other international students to join.”