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 Colleges Set Sights on International Students 

Sharon Hart
Community College Times


Established in 1903, North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) is steeped in a wonderful and historic tradition of educating students from North Dakota and the Upper Midwest. Yet, efforts to reach out and attract students from overseas have not been a high priority.

But declining high school enrollments in North Dakota and the expected impact this will have on higher education are forcing college administrators to take off rose-colored glasses and see the world in a more global perspective. Recruiting international students now needs to be a major goal of this college and other two-year public colleges.

Last month, I joined representatives from 17 community colleges from across the U.S. in the American Association of Community College’s (AACC) Fall International Recruitment Trip to Latin America.

According to the Institute of International Education, Latin American is the second-largest contributor of international student to American colleges and universities. (Asia is the first second.) Roughly two-thirds of those Latin American students in the U.S. attend community colleges.

Our delegation visited Mexico, Columbia, Brazil and Peru and included international recruitment coordinators from their respective colleges, presidents, vice presidents, deans and professors. The opportunity to collaborate and share ideas and strategies for recruiting students with these college officials was invaluable.  

AACC orchestrated meetings in these various countries with members of the U.S. Consular Offices, members of the U.S. Department of State Overseas Advising Offices and other educational officials to further discuss the benefits of community colleges as a gateway to higher education in this country.

There were seven different opportunities for all of us to meet with college officials during this two-week trip. The four major fairs, as well as the mini-fairs, were heavily attended and full of potential students. At times, my college booth had student prospects standing 12 people deep.

I realized that the opportunity is truly there for community colleges to attract more international students. The ball is now in our court. At NDSCS, our recruiting staff has the contact information for almost 300 prospects from these fairs.

When trying to recruit these students, community colleges should focus on a handful of selling points. For NDSCS, one unique pitch was that it charges in-state tuition to international students who live in our residence halls and also provides a number of tuition waivers to them.

Also, the campus looks and feels like a true university campus, with 38 buildings over 130 acres, including residence halls and apartments. In addition, North Dakota is ranked as the safest state in the U.S. All of these were great selling features to perspective students.

Students and families who visited the college fairs were glad to see college officials who took such interest in attending these recruitment fairs and talking for hours with perspective students. I could promise to these students that I would indeed take a vested interest in their education at NDSCS. Their success would be important to me.  

As a president, I was not only able to discuss the benefits of our college, I was also able to sell sister colleges and universities in my state and region when it became evident to me that NDSCS was not likely the best fit. I am positive all of us will see results from this trip — that being more students from Latin America enrolling in our colleges.

I encourage every community college to take the opportunity to send representatives on an AACC-sponsored recruitment trip. Or better yet, if you are a college president or senior administrator, go on one yourself. It will give you the opportunity to see first-hand the hard work and extensive planning that’s needed for these trips, both at the AACC level and within one’s own college.  

In addition, the students you meet will be impressed that an executive is taking the time to spend with them and to answer their questions about your college. It will also send a strong message to your college that you are committed to international education.  

Hart is president of North Dakota State College of Science.

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