By Helmut Schmidt and Grace Lyden | INFORUM

Across the U.S., more international students than ever were enrolled last school year in a college or university. It’s a trend Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College are hoping to replicate here.

The two Moorhead schools, which have seen sharply declining enrollment in the past five years, are actively working to expand their international presence. MSUM hopes to eventually have 10 to 12 percent of its students coming from abroad. It was at just under 8 percent last year.

Concordia, too, aims to almost double its international student population, from just over 3 percent last year to a goal of 6 percent.

“In line with Concordia’s mission of preparing students to influence the affairs of the world, they certainly need to interact with students around the world,” said Matthew Beatty, Concordia’s director of international enrollment.

A robust international program is “requisite in this day and age, both for business and industry, and communities like Fargo-Moorhead that are increasingly well-known and sophisticated,” said MSUM Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Joseph Bessie.

MSUM sent a delegation of administrators and faculty to South Korea and China in late November and early December to finalize initiatives, such as a Sino-American cooperative education agreement in computer science with Guilin University of Electronic Technology; a faculty and student exchange with Shanghai Finance University; and student recruitment with a Beijing organization that runs K-12 schools.

In South Korea, the group went to Seoul National University of Education to develop a study-abroad program for that nation’s students.
The Koreans want “opportunities to send their education students to learn about American-style K-12 education: how we do it and how we teach our education students,” Bessie said.

MSUM President Anne Blackhurst will also head to China and South Korea this coming year to sign agreements with two Chinese universities, Bessie said.

“In order to make this type of thing work, the relationship is extremely important, especially administrator to administrator, faculty to faculty, to have our professionals meet their group of professionals,” Bessie said. “To make the trip, to even sit down with a meal with each other, conveys the seriousness and the commitment we have to ensure that this is going to work. And that we really care about it and we want it to happen.”

For Concordia, Beatty also made recruitment trips to China in September, and to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand in October. Along with representatives of other colleges, he hosted educational fairs, visited national high schools and sat down with counselors to understand the concerns of prospective students.

Benefits both ways
More international students could help curb declining enrollment at the schools.

Concordia has seen its enrollment fall a little more than 20 percent in the past five years, from 2,810 in fall 2010 to 2,177 in fall 2015.

The decline has been even more pronounced at MSUM. In 1990, it had more than 9,000 students, more than North Dakota State University. As recently as 2010, MSUM enrollment was just above 7,500, a level it had been slightly above for more than a decade.

But by this fall, enrollment had dropped to 5,836, a reduction of more than 20 percent in half a decade.

MSUM’s goal is to get its enrollment back up to 7,500. That would mean expanding the international student population to 750 to 900 students, Bessie said. It had 486 foreign students in the 2014-25 school year, according to the annual Open Doors study released late last year by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

In all, 14,438 international students were enrolled in Minnesota schools during the last school year, up 4.9 percent from 2014. That put it at No. 19 among the states, the Open Doors report said. MSUM had the fifth-highest number of international students in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota tops the list, with nearly 7,000 international students, the report said. Concordia had 93 international students during the 2014-15 school year, school officials said.

Nationwide, foreign enrollment was up 10 percent from the year before, the report found. International students had an economic impact of $30 billion in the U.S. in 2014, including $391 million in Minnesota and $57 million in North Dakota, the report found.

Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, told MPR News that schools have a financial incentive to recruit international students, who often pay full out-of-state tuition.

“Two-thirds of international students come here paying their own way,” he said.

A degree from the U.S. is also a good deal for international students, as it gives them a competitive advantage, Bessie said.

“The students love the American education; it carries a lot of cachet abroad in China and India and other countries, especially in Southeast Asia.”

That’s also the case for sophomore Annika Greaney, who came to MSUM from Gothenburg, Sweden. The 20-year-old computer science major doesn’t know whether she’ll stay in the states after graduation, but she said the degree could help her career if she returns home.

“It does look good that you’ve taken that step to go somewhere else, to do something different, to push your boundaries,” Greaney said. “It gives you knowledge that you don’t really get if you just stay in one place.”

Greaney chose MSUM for its similar weather and geography to Sweden, and because she got a scholarship to play soccer. She has enjoyed her time here, in part because the international student community is “really strong,” she said.

“People are active, people get involved, international students aren’t isolated here,” she said. “There’s no segregation. There’s no different treatment of international students.”

Bessie said he also wants to increase the number of MSUM students studying abroad.

Cross-cultural learning is needed “to prepare our students for the world of the 21st century, as well as to teach other people from other parts of the world about what we do here and how we do it. Develop partnerships and relationships and friendships,” he said.

NDSU rates dropping
North Dakota’s efforts at attracting international students have lagged behind most of the nation since 2010, and in recent years, the state has seen international student numbers decline.

In the 2010 Open Doors report, North Dakota had 2,884 international students, which ranked 40th in the nation. The state’s international student numbers topped out at 3,182 in 2012, then started to drop. For the last school year, North Dakota reported 2,677 international students, ranking it 44th in the nation.

Billie Jo Lorius, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota University System, said the system’s top priority is to serve North Dakota students first. It’s up to individual schools to conduct their own outreach efforts, she said.
Of North Dakota’s international students in 2014-15, 23.9 percent came from China, followed by Canada (17.8 percent), India (11.1 percent), Brazil (4 percent) and South Korea (3.9 percent), according to the Open Doors study.

Nearly a third of Minnesota’s international students last year came from China, at 30.4 percent, the report found. They were followed by South Korea (10.1 percent), India (9.3 percent), Saudi Arabia (5.7 percent) and Nepal (3.1 percent).

North Dakota State University has led among the state’s schools in international student numbers since 2010, but it, too, has seen a decline. As of 2014-15, it had 1,059, down from a high in the past five years of 1,307 in 2011.

Using its 2014 fall enrollment as the baseline and the foreign enrollment reported in the Open Doors study, NDSU’s student body was about 7.2 percent international during the last school year. In 2009-10, about 8.2 percent of NDSU students were international, based on fall enrollment. In comparison, MSUM was at 7.7 percent last school year, and Concordia was at 3.4 percent.

When asked about the decline, spokeswoman Sadie Rudolph said NDSU has never had a large number of international undergraduate students, focusing more on graduate students.

“Recruiting internationally is expensive so we are aiming our efforts at domestic students, which are a more stable population,” meaning the numbers fluctuate less, she wrote in an email. She added that international students “bring a wealth of experiences to the NDSU community, which enrich our learning environment.”

The MSUM fall trip cost about $35,000, said spokesman David Wahlberg.

“If a trip like that increases international enrollment by just five students, the expense is offset,” he said. “If it is responsible for increasing enrollment by 10, 15, 20, 30 additional students, then that was an investment that pays off well.”