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Students from overseas flock to U.S. colleges

Updated: 2013-11-23T04:52:37Z

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS

The Kansas City Star

Before Wallace Entringer Botacim left his home in Brazil to study at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he ate french fries maybe once a year.

“Now I eat them once a week, sometimes every day,” Botacim, 24, said with a laugh. They’re so hard to resist, he said — and so American.

A chance to learn American culture is one of the big reasons why record numbers of international students are coming to the United States for school.

They’re also being recruited more heavily than ever, and university officials say it’s because they help compensate for the dwindling pool of U.S. high school graduates, build a more diverse student body and boost revenues with their higher tuition dollars.

Until recent years, U.S. schools didn’t need to recruit, said Sandy Gault, director of international student affairs at UMKC.

“The best and brightest wanted to come here,” Gault said. “And they still do. But it’s no longer enough to just assume those students will come here. There are other competitors.”

In 2012-2013, a record 819,644 international students enrolled in U.S. colleges, up 7.2 percent from the previous year, according to a recent report from the Institute of International Education.

China accounts for 28 percent of international students in the U.S., followed by India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

No matter what country they come from or what state they land in, most of the students come for degrees in engineering, business, life sciences, digital media and computer science.

Missouri ranked 12th nationwide in number of international students, with 17,300, a 7.7 percent increase from 2011-2012. Kansas was No. 24, with 9,568 international students, up 3 percent.

“When international students look at us in the Midwest, they see us in the heart of the U.S., safe, less expensive but just as competitive, so we become a very good place to be,” Gault said.

Increased recruitment by U.S. colleges might be the top reason for the jump in international students, but some international governments encourage it by paying the full freight for their students to come to the U.S.

“When you come to study in the U.S.,” Botacim said, “one thing you can be sure will happen, you will meet people from all over the world. You will be a global professional.”

His government plucked him, along with thousands of other high-achieving students, out of the public college system in Brazil to study abroad.

“I chose the U.S.,” Botacim said.

The Brazilian government pays his full out-of-state tuition, room and board and a $300-a-month stipend.

Brazil is not the only country paying big bucks for its students to study in the United States.

“Saudi Arabia is doing it on a huge scale,” said Bruce Inwards, director of international student services at Avila University, which saw its international student enrollment increase by 8.8 percent this year.

Most international students, though — 64 percent — rely primarily on their personal and family funds to pay for their studies in the U.S.

Chinese students are pouring into the U.S. because an improved economy there has meant many more middle-class families can afford a U.S. education for their child.

Little to no U.S. scholarship money goes to international undergraduate students. But some international students do receive tuition breaks.

Northwest Missouri State University this year is allowing high-achieving international students to get the same in-state tuition deal offered to high achieving out-of-state U.S. students, said Jeffrey Foot, the university’s director of international affairs.

Northwest Missouri has nearly 400 international students, about three times the number enrolled there a decade ago.

The new offer “has really sparked a lot of interest from countries that we had not been able to recruit from — Eastern Africa, Turkey, Bulgaria and Eastern and Northern Europe,” Foot said.

Schools with more resources send faculty to teach abroad — generating interest in their home school — and open recruitment offices in other countries.

Last year, Kansas State University opened an office in Vietnam and beefed up recruitment in about eight African and several South American nations, said Marcelo Sabates, interim associate provost for international programs.

“Two years ago K-State had only four countries with more that 40 students enrolled, and those were China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia,” Sabates said. Now there are nine, including Brazil, Paraguay and Kuwait.

International students make up only 5 percent of K-State’s undergraduates, but they contribute 15 to 20 percent of the tuition revenues, Sabates said.

But it’s about more than money, said David Currey, assistant director of the International Center at the University of Missouri.

“These international students really do add to students’ education,” he said.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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