Nationwide, the number of international students enrolled in American colleges and universities rose to 819,644 in 2012, an all-time high, according to a report released Monday by the Institute of International Education. At JSU this fall, international enrollment took a slight dip, falling to 204 from 216 in 2012, according to information published online by the university. International enrollment had grown steadily since 2001, peaking at 247 in both 2007 and 2008.
In an emailed statement, JSU spokeswoman Patty Hobbs noted that JSU has made recruitment of international students part of the school’s strategic plan, but declined to answer further questions.
At a board of trustees meeting in October, Joe Delap, JSU’s associate vice president for academic affairs, said that the university had some policies that kept some international students from entering JSU at the graduate level. When asked this week for specific examples of those barriers, officials at the university declined to respond.
Delap said in a statement emailed by Hobbs that JSU’s Office of Graduate Studies might post international admissions criteria in a more prominent location on the university website by the spring semester to help attract more international students.
Allen Goodman, president of the International Institute of Education, pointed to University of South Alabama, Auburn University and the University of Alabama as examples of schools that saw international enrollment grow. He said international enrollment statewide grew by about 10 percent.
Goodman said students from other countries tend to study math, science, technology and engineering.
“That tends to be a high priority for education in other places,” Goodman said.
In 2012 the top degree programs among international students at JSU were biology, nursing and pre-business, according to the university’s fact book.
Goodman said international students tend to seek higher education in the United States because of the reputation of colleges here, and that they do so in good and bad economic times.
“America has a terrific reputation in higher education,” Goodman said. “There is just a lot of opportunity in America.”
In 2012-13, 55,000 more international students attended American colleges and universities than did so in the previous year. Most of the growth was driven by students from Saudi Arabia and China.
In 2012-13, the bulk of foreign students came to JSU from China, Brazil and Canada, according to information published by the university, while in the current academic year China, Canada and the United Kingdom were the top three countries of origin for international students. Vanessa Radom, a graduate student from France, said she came to JSU because she earned a scholarship.
“I did not pick Jacksonville, Jacksonville picked me,” Radom said.
Radom, who studies literature, she said she sought out an educational opportunity in the United States to improve her English language skills. Along the way, she added, she has learned a few more things.
“I’ve learned a lot about cultural differences,” Radom said. “I’ve learned to respect these differences,”
Like Radom, Maya-Nora Saaid, a JSU undergraduate from Holland of Middle Eastern descent, said she came to the United States to learn more about the culture. A member of JSU’s International House program, which pairs 20 foreign students with roommates from the United States, she said she’s found a niche at JSU.
“I grew up with two cultures ... I didn’t feel at home. I was always the European or the Middle Eastern,” she said. “This is a great place for me to have a base.”
John Ketterer, director of JSU’s International House, said learning to acclimate to new cultures is a major benefit of international education, which can help when navigating international business dealings.
“I think it's very important for economic reasons,” Ketterer said. “We do live in a society now where we depend on each other.”
Ketterer said international education is expanding to include colleges and universities from more countries. In the past, he said, the United States, France and the United Kingdom received the greatest number of college students from other nations.
Now students are more inclined to study at universities in South America and Africa than ever before, he said, calling it a “leveling of academic exchange.”
“It’s a leveling of the playing field with a lot more options,” Ketterer said.
He said some officials in higher education are using experimental programs to encourage this change. JSU, for example, has programs through which students spend two years at a university in their home country and two years at JSU, earning degrees from both institutions. In addition to that, Ketterer said, JSU is working with Taizhou University in China to promote international education. He also pointed out that JSU has a faculty exchange program through which professors at JSU teach in foreign institutions and professors from universities overseas visit JSU.
Radom and Saaid said making the transition to JSU was simple for them. For Saaid, the transition was made easier through the mentoring she received at the International House, she said.
Radom said the process was easier for her in the beginning when she had a scholarship, but since it ran out she’s been having to figure out how to learn to register and pay for school on her own.
“In Europe studies are much cheaper,” Radom said. “People here have to be more independent.”
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.