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Foreign-born W.Va. students increase 8.4%

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The number of international students attending West Virginia colleges and universities has grown 8.4 percent in the span of a year, according to a study released Monday.

The nonprofit Institute of International Education said there were 2,708 foreign-born college students enrolled in the state in the 2011-12 school year, ranking West Virginia 43rd in the nation.

West Virginia University in Morgantown had the most international students at 1,744. Marshall University had 452, followed by Concord University with 95, Bluefield State College with 78 and West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling with 15.

WVU led the way in terms of state growth. Foreign-born students grew by 12.1 percent at WVU, while it fell by 16 percent at Concord and by 2 percent at Marshall, the study showed.

Grace Atebe, assistant director of the WVU Office of International Students and Scholars, said figures for this fall show foreign-born students on campus in Morgantown dipped to 1,657. That includes 912 graduate students.

WVU's greatest foreign-student growth in recent years has been on the undergraduate side, she said. The increasing numbers are a combination of aggressive recruiting at fairs worldwide and developing relationships with a network of corporate and government agencies that assist with paying for college.

Once they arrive on campus, the task turns to "ensuring the students have a great experience so they then recommend us to the rest of their friends and family members," meaning the recruitment process starts all over, Atebe said. "We have a lot of students who do come to WVU based on word of mouth."

The greatest challenges for international students can be a combination of paying for college and overcoming language barriers.

"A lot of them do come ready to get into the classroom and get going," Atebe said. "We have some students who are very good with the English language, but funding may be a bit of a problem. We have students who have the funding and everything, but they do need to work on their English before they actually get going into an academic program."

WVU hopes to eventually increase its share of international students to at least 2,500 in the next five years.

"If we can increase the [foreign-born] population by 2 to 3 percent on a yearly basis, we may be on track to getting there quickly," Atebe said. "But it's not something that we take lightly because it's obviously a lot of work getting the students here and making sure we have the resources to support them."

Of the state's foreign-born enrollment, students from Saudi Arabia and China each comprise 15 percent of the total, followed by India at 11 percent.

The study also showed the number of students from West Virginia studying abroad rose 27 percent to 1,284 in the 2010-11 school year, the latest year available.

The 2012 Open Doors report found the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities rose 6 percent to a record 764,495 in 2011-12. Enrollments from China increased 23 percent to 194,029.

Institutions in California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois were the top five choices for international students. Nearly 22 percent of international students chose business and management as their field of study, followed by engineering at 18.5 percent, and math and computer science at 9.3 percent.


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