St. Vincent, Seton Hill recruit foreign students
By Joe Napsha
Published: Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Graduate student Liang “Leo” Liang loves St. Vincent College — the small classes, personal attention from his professors and the safe environment for learning.
“I wanted to broaden my experience and learn a different culture and the English language. I came here because of the program in operational excellence,” said Liang, 29, of Bejing. He considered colleges in the United Kingdom but opted for the United States “because the quality of education is better.”
At nearby Seton Hill University, 25-year-old Bovey Masiole came from the East African nation of Tanzania to Greensburg to study marketing, human resources and business.
“It's been a great experience,” said Masiole, whose biggest challenges have been deciphering some American phrases and getting through cold Western Pennsylvania winters.
St. Vincent and Seton Hill are actively recruiting students to bolster international enrollment, officials said.
There is a growing trend among U.S. colleges and universities to seek diversity for their student bodies said Kate M. Fenner, managing director of Compass Higher Education Consulting, a Cincinnati-based firm.
St. Vincent has targeted China as its primary area for growth, while Seton Hill's outreach will initially focus on India, then South America, officials report.
“We currently have 13 students from China studying at the college and seminary and would like to increase that by about 15 students a year,” said Suzanne Wilcox English, vice president for marketing and communications at St. Vincent.
“This college has had a long history with China. We've been sending students to China and other international locations for some time,” said Elizabeth Bennellick, director of St. Vincent's study abroad program.
Benedictine monks, who serve St. Vincent, have been working in China since the 1920s. The college has undergraduate transfer agreements with universities in China. Gary Quinlivan, dean of the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics and Government, has traveled to China dozens of times, setting up nine academic affiliations with some of China's top universities.
St. Vincent's multifaceted marketing program includes creating a website with Liang's assistance, advertising in the “China Daily” newspaper and other publications and recruiting at college fairs.
Bennellick has been preparing promotional items and educational materials expected by Chinese students, such as a Chinese website and video interviews.
St. Vincent has about 80 international students in its undergraduate and graduate programs and St. Vincent Seminary, which accounts for about half of the foreign students, Bennellick said. An enrollment of about 1,900 students draws from about a dozen foreign countries.
Bennellick will be in Beijing and Shanghai this week for the China Education Expo, which sponsors college fairs in major cities. She anticipates 10,000 students a day will visit the fairs, where she will be joined by administrators from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Juniata College in Huntingdon.
“These efforts will not happen overnight,” Bennellick said of increasing the school's foreign student population.
Seton Hill has about 80 international undergrad and graduate students out of more than 2,000 students. The goal is to increase that to about 100 students within five years “to improve the international flavor of campus,” said Michael Poll, vice president for enrollment management.
“It is really important to have students from all over the world in the classroom. They (U.S. students) are going to work in a global economy,” Poll said.
‘Best system in world'
About 723,270 international students studied in the United States in 2010-11, according to the Institute of International Education's 2011 report, published with the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
“I think the attraction is the reputation of U.S. education in general, even if it is not a Harvard or CMU. We have the best higher education system in the world,” Fenner said.
China and India are first and second, respectively, in foreign student population, the report said.
Chinese student enrollment rose to almost 158,000 students; nearly 22 percent of the total international student population. About 104,000 students came from India. Of the estimated 30,500 foreign students studying in Pennsylvania, about 25 percent came from China, and about 17 percent from India.
Acknowledging the competition for students, Bennellick said she stresses St. Vincent's strengths — the personal attention by faculty and staff the safe environment and graduates' placement in jobs and graduate schools.
“The students here are not a number. They can get a true American experience by being here,” Bennellick said.
While St. Vincent may not have the name recognition of other schools, Liang said that Chinese parents place emphasis on rankings in “U.S. News & World Report's Best College Guidebook.” St. Vincent is ranked in the first tier of liberal arts colleges.
“Many of the foreign students come to the private schools with foreign support,” Fenner said.
The Institution of International Education found that 70 percent of international students receive financial support from personal and family sources, their country's government or universities.
Poll said Seton Hill hopes its efforts to attract more foreign students will generate about $1.3 million a year. Their financial assistance will be based on academic performance, Poll said.
“We have to be pretty aggressive in our recruitment of students and offering them assistance,” Poll said.
Both Liang at St. Vincent and Bovey at Seton Hill said financial support from the schools was a crucial factor in their decision-making.
“The costs and tuition were lower than in the United Kingdom and some of the universities in Chicago and San Francisco,” Liang said.
Bovey said he needed financial help because, in a country where teachers earn just $60 a month, his family could not afford to send him abroad for an education.
Poll said there are costs associated with recruiting and retaining international students.
“The biggest mistake is not to have the support system available,” Poll said. That might involve picking up students at Pittsburgh International Airport.
St. Vincent is making “what we consider an appropriate financial investment, including a small percentage of our advertising budget and funds for travel by St. Vincent faculty and staff,” to recruit international students, Wilcox said.
Seton Hill and St. Vincent officials said the recruitment drive will not deprive American students of the opportunity to study at their schools.
“They are not taking seats from U.S. citizens. We're doing this without denying opportunities to U.S. students,” Poll said.
Bennellick said colleges are facing a challenge of changing demographics, with fewer students graduating from high schools than in previous decades.
“We are competing for a smaller pool of students. We need to think longer term about how to maintain our enrollment,” Bennellick said.
“You can go out of state or out of country” to increase enrollment, Poll said.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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