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WV's international student population continues to grow

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Many colleges and universities across West Virginia are recognizing the effect an international student population can have on campus life.

According to the 2012 Open Doors study by the Institute for International Education, the number of foreign students studying at colleges and universities in the United States continues to grow. According to IIE data, more than 228,000 students from China, India, Mexico, Turkey, Nigeria and other countries enrolled in U.S. institutions for the first time in 2011 — an increase of 6.5 percent over 2010 data.

Although most international students choose to study at schools such as the University of Southern California, University of Illinois and New York University, West Virginia's own schools also are seeing an increase in the number of international students they educate. According to the IIE, more than 2,700 international students are enrolled in West Virginia schools — an 8.4 percent increase over last year. West Virginia ranks No. 43 in the nation.

And those students are having a huge impact on the state's economy, according to the study. It estimated that foreign students spend an estimated $59.8 million in the state

Clark Egnor is the executive director of the Center of International Programs at Marshall University, which is home to 452 international students. Egnor said the school has a long-standing history of hosting international students and the program continues to grow. Most students come to the U.S. to complete graduate programs, Egnor said, but schools are now seeing students shift more toward undergraduate study.

"Most universities in our state have some international students studying on their campus," Egnor said. "(West Virginia University) and Marshall have the largest share of those students because we have probably a lot more graduate programs. But I think … a lot of international students are coming not just for graduate programs any more but also undergraduate programs."

According to IIE, the top fields of study for international students at schools across the country include social sciences, business and management, humanities and applied or fine arts. However, many students come to West Virginia to study in other degree programs. And those students' countries of origin also are changing.

"The most popular programs, and not just at Marshall but all over the U.S., tend to be business, computer science, engineering, the sciences and technology," Egnor said. "We have international students in lots of different programs. A good share of the students will study in these technology and business, engineering, science programs. They also tend to come from certain countries, like China has really been increasing the number of students it's sending to the U.S. We used to get a lot of Japanese and South Korean students. We still have them at Marshall, but there's not as many of those students coming as there used to be."

Most international students enrolling in schools nationally come from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Mexico and Turkey. Other countries in the top 25 are Nepal, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Iran, Malaysia, Venezuela and Russia. Purdue University and Columbia University round out the top five schools where these students study.

Although large urban schools draw more international students, some are enticed by more rural settings. Concord University has about 100 international students. Although Concord may not have the cultural diversity evident in bigger cities, rural schools offer outdoor recreational activities many students enjoy.

"Concord is located in a very beautiful area of West Virginia," said Nancy Ellison, director of multicultural affairs at Concord. "For parents, they like the aspect that it's a safe area. There are many recreational, outdoor things to do in this area that students enjoy. There aren't a lot of distractions that would keep a student not focused on their studies. Concord is very affordable. We offer scholarships to international students."

Many international students at Concord study in programs such as recreation and tourism management, health care professions, business administration and athletic training.

Both Ellison and Egnor noted the cultural diversity these international students bring to their respective campuses. Ellison said many of Concord's students have not traveled outside U.S. borders, so meeting and interacting with students from other countries allows those students to learn about other cultures.

"They bring diversity into our campus that helps our domestic students," Ellison said of international students. "Many of our domestic students at Concord and West Virginia as a whole have not traveled outside of the U.S. Most of what they know about other countries they learn from a book. When they share a dorm room with an international student or a classroom or a project, they get real world experience."

Marshall University has partnerships with universities in other countries. For example, a partnership between Marshall's psychology department and universities in Hungary and Poland allow Marshall students to study in those countries and earn dual degrees from both the foreign school and Marshall. Meanwhile, students from those schools in Hungary and Poland study at and can earn their degrees from Marshall. Egnor said the partnership began about four or five years ago. In addition, the music department has a partnership with a school in Brazil. Students in China can study in their own country for two years, then transfer to Marshall to earn their degree in business.

These partnerships allow Marshall students and students from other countries to experience different cultures and become more competitive in the global economy.

"The reason that we try to find ways to bring these international students to Marshall is, No. 1, it's good for our West Virginia students who have not been exposed to this kind of diversity," Egnor said. "Whey they graduate from Marshall, they're going to be living and working in a global economy. If they can learn things in the classroom and make friends from around the world, it's really important. They get an international experience from that interaction that builds their global confidence. It's good for Marshall academically to have international students in the classroom, living in the dorms and interacting with students."

But having a vibrant international student population is good not only for the school, but also for the community. While some students to return to their home countries, some stay in the United States and enter the work force or go to graduate school.

"It's a mixture of both," Ellison said. "We have a few that stay in the area, but most, once they graduate, go on to graduate schools in other areas or to work in larger metropolitan areas."

Students aren't the only ones who benefit from studying in the U.S. International students pump money into the local economy through their tuition and cost of living, and having a positive experience could lead to improved relations between countries, Egnor said.

"They pay an out-of-state tuition, three or four times more than what most American students pay," Egnor said. "That's good for the university's bottom line. But it's also good for the United States. A lot of these students come here and get an education. Most of them go back home. Most of them are future leaders in their country. Hopefully they had a good experience and got to know the American culture, and that makes the world more friendly and peaceful toward the United States."

To see the Open Doors report, visit www.iie.org/en/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors.

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