International students decline

In January 2006, an international task force at Southern Oregon University called for increasing the number of international students. After a year of work, the numbers have continued their nine-year decline to 79, down from 159 in the fall of 1999.

"We don't reverse trends overnight, and last year wasn't a good year for reversing trends," said Professor John Richards. Richards leads the International Affairs Council, a group created last year charged with increasing international enrollment as part of the larger effort to internationalize SOU. "Last year we were preoccupied with retrenchment."

The number of foreign students studying across the U.S. has also declined in recent years, but the drop at SOU began earlier and has been more severe, concluded a recent report from the international task force at SOU.

Richards said the recruitment of international students served two purposes.

"One is that an international and multicultural campus is an intellectually more vibrant campus, and that helps attract students not only form abroad but also local students," he said. "The second is the simple economics that students from abroad bring money to the university."

All international students pay out-of-state tuition, which has the effect of subsidizing local students, he said, although foreign students are eligible for scholarships. The funds for increasing those scholarships and other recruiting strategies are limited, but the task force identified several budget-conscious strategies to increase recruitment.

The admissions office is targeting foreign students already in the United States, studying at community colleges, area high schools through exchange programs or the ELS Language Center, a private English-language program on SOU's campus. There are about 50 foreign students in the ELS program, most of whom choose not to enroll at SOU when they complete the program, according to Director Jodi Weber.

"It's less expensive to recruit students who are already here," said Armando Lopez, associate director of admissions.

Another tactic is contacting international alumni to raise funds for additional scholarships and ask them to spread the word about SOU in their home countries.

Current SOU students said they would be very willing to recruit their friends back home.

Cise Tasirlar, a freshman from Turkey, said a few of her friends are already thinking about attending Rogue Community College with hopes of transferring to SOU.

"I told them this place is good," she said. "I told them it's safe, and this place is so friendly."

The biggest challenge for recruiting Turkish students, she said, is that many of them are used to living in big cities and tend to prefer schools in New York or California.

Mapendo Musafiri was originally an ELS student from Congo who chose to stay when she received a scholarship. She said she encourages her friends to apply.

"In Congo, you cannot get a scholarship," she said. "Half of your tuition is really impressive to them."

However, she said added that improvements to the Web site or sending information about SOU directly to potential students was needed to make the school seem more inviting.

"If I wrote something about my experience (on the Web site), and I am from Congo, I think people would be more encouraged because they know someone from their country is there and they can keep in touch with that person."

The admissions office is also experimenting with online chats as an inexpensive way to contact students overseas, Lopez said.

Current overseas recruitment efforts focus largely on China, establishing relationships with the American English Center in Shanghai and learning how to increase the attractiveness of SOU to Chinese students.

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