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University of Iowa Broadens Its Global Reach

In a move to increase its out-of-state and international student enrollment, officials at the University of Iowa are stepping up their global recruitment efforts — even in the face of criticism that the school may be losing sight of its mission.

“Our goal is to increase enrollment across the board, with both in-state as well as out-of-state and international students,” says Michael Barron, the assistant provost for enrollment services, of a UI program to increase enrollment at the 30,300-student institution by 500 in the next five years.

Barron, who also serves as director of admissions, says up to half of that number may be out-of-state or international students.

“Iowa’s in-state student market is diminishing and the number of high school students here that are graduating college-bound is declining,” Barron says.

According to the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, Iowa’s population slightly increased from 2000 to 2008 from 2.9 million to just over 3 million. A century ago, Iowa had the 10th largest population in the union; today it ranks 30th with a 65-and-over population of 14.8 percent — 2 percent higher than the national mark. 

Iowa’s demographic challenges are even more difficult because its African-American and Hispanic populations — significant growth sectors in other parts of the country — are at 2.7 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively, according to the 2008 Census Bureau estimate. African-Americans represent 12.8 percent of the national population and Hispanics 15.4 percent.

Dr. Downing Thomas, UI’s dean of international programs, says the effort to expand the school’s international profile is more than just a campaign to increase enrollment.

“We see this as part of a bigger picture” he says. “We look at it in terms of how both in-state as well as international students benefit from having multiple student populations. We also think that part of educating Iowans is exposing them to people from other cultures and giving them knowledge about global systems and context.”

But not everyone is enthused. In a Feb. 26 editorial, The Daily Iowan, the independent student newspaper in Iowa City, warned that UI is “in danger of forgetting its core mission: to deliver quality, relatively low-cost education to scores of in-state students.”

The paper also noted that some 52 percent of the fall 2009 freshmen were from out of state, a figure it characterized as an “astonishingly high figure for a school that supposedly prides itself on educating in-state students.”

Daily Iowan Opinions Editor Shawn Gude says the paper decided to explore the issue of the school’s growing international enrollment as a consequence of UI’s budget problems, noting an ongoing decline in state support. The state imposed a mid-academic year $23.5 million cut on top of previous reductions in state allocations. 

“We then brainstormed the implications of this miserly funding, and the increased emphasis on recruiting international students and out-of-state students was one of the most apparent ramifications,” he says.

Barron, however, denies that the campaign to increase UI’s out-of-state and international student enrollment is strictly revenue-oriented, although the school received more than $80 million from its more than 2,500 international students who pay on average $32,000 a year. Tuition and fees for in-state students are $6,824, according to 2009-10 Department of Education data.

“In and of itself, I don’t think that is a sufficient reason to focus our resources as we have in that area,” Barron says of the recruitment efforts. “It is a byproduct of our interest in diversifying enrollment socially and culturally.”

UI’s international student enrollment increases are coming during a time of rising international student enrollment nationally. According to the Institute of International Education, the number of international students at American colleges and universities reached a record high of 671,616 last year with the University of Southern California leading the way with 7,482, followed by New York University at 6,761 and Columbia University at 6,685.

International students at UI as of the fall of 2009 make up 8.9 percent of the school’s total enrollment, with 3.9 percent at undergraduate and 16.6 percent at the graduate level. According to the school, some 70 percent of the international students attend UI’s College of Liberal Arts, Graduate College interdisciplinary programs and Henry B. Tippie College of Business. 

That increasing international presence, fueled by top-feeder countries China, South Korea and Malaysia, says Scott King, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars at UI, is the result of trends that have taken place for several years.

“About three or four years ago, the school started a concerted effort to get the word out about our university and do recruiting,” King says.

That recruiting has included trips made late last year by UI officials to Washington to meet with higher education officials from Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

Anticipating future international enrollment increases, Barron adds: “We see this as the direction we want to be moving in. To have a microcosm of the greater world here on this campus, in terms of the students’ backgrounds, locales, traditions, cultures, citizenship and countries, is all actually going to help make for a better learning environment.”

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