While national trends show a sharp decrease or slow growth rate in international students enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities, Texas A&M International University has observed a 17 percent increase in international students on its campus between 2002 and 2003.
According to a recent CNN.com report, the number of foreign students attending U.S. colleges increased by less than 1 percent between 2002 and 2003, indicating the lowest growth rate in seven years.
Tightened visa procedures enacted after the 2001 terrorist attacks, which have delayed the entry of many foreigners into the United States, contributed to the low growth rate, the CNN report states.
David VerMilyea, director of International Student Services, said a key reason to TAMIU's international student growth can be attributed to the fact that it issues documentation early so that students can obtain visas in their home countries in a timely manner.
"We issue the I-20 in advance, which is the document that says that a student applying to TAMIU meets our entry criteria," VerMilyea said, "Our students are able to get their clearances early, therefore, they are able to meet the enrollment deadline."
Also, recruiters frequently exchange e-mails with prospective students overseas, VerMilyea said.
"We have a lot of electronic contacts with students to help them understand what our institution is all about and to begin the early transition into cultural adjustment," he said.
TAMIU has seen an increase from 193 international students in 2002 to 226 in 2003, said Mary Treviño, associate vice president for Academic Affairs. The largest groups of students come from Mexico and India, with 145 and 55 students enrolled respectively this Fall. The majority are pursuing business degrees.
Countries represented in the TAMIU international student population also include the Philippines, China, El Salvador, France, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Republic of Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Sudan, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Dr. Tom Corti, vice president for Student Affairs, said TAMIU's international student increase could be attributed to multiple reasons.
"One of the reasons is that we have programs and services that students are interested in," Dr. Corti said, "Our College of Business and others are attracting students overseas, and a lot of it has to do with word of mouth because you will see a large number of these students concentrating on a particular program of study."
Corti said many international students also feel welcome at TAMIU and in Laredo.
"That says a lot about whether or not a student stays here," he said, "Students also see us growing, feel the excitement and electricity on our campus, and they want to be a part of that."
However, Dr. Michael Gold-Biss, TAMIU assistant vice president for International Programs, said that while the increase is positive, the University would like to see a greater jump in international student numbers.
"The increase we've seen is small compared to what we'd like to see," he said.
He agreed that the University's international student recruitment has been affected by the post-Sept. 11 regulations.
"We have felt significantly the impact of the greater obstacles that have been placed for our international students by the federal government," Gold-Biss said.
Gold-Biss said TAMIU works closely with the Department of Homeland Security to follow all guidelines while helping its students process their paperwork in an expeditious manner.
"What we are trying to do is to very carefully work with the student and all federal authorities to make sure that there is a timely processing of paperwork," he said, "We try to plan ahead and work with a very generous timeline to help us assist students with delays. But part of it depends on the fact that we have students who have been recruiting other students who are willing to face the obstacle."
Gold-Biss said students also know the University is willing to help.
"There is a lot of good will on the part of our students because they recognize that TAMIU is an institution that would like to work with them," he said, "We put all of the resources available at the service of students to make sure that we help them as much as we can."
Sudheer Devarashetty, a master's in business administration student from Hyderabad, India, said that prior to applying to TAMIU, he had applied to another university, only to have his visa application rejected twice at the U.S. Consulate in India. (photo)
"My visa application got rejected because I didn't have a research assistant position offered to me at that university," he said, explaining that it is extremely difficult for a student in India to obtain a visa to study in the United States without some proof of financial sustainability once in the United States.
What allowed Devarashetty to finally obtain a visa was a fellowship TAMIU offered to him, he said.
"Once I got the I-20 from TAMIU, I went to the U.S. Consulate and got approved," he said smiling.
Devarashetty agreed with Gold-Biss that word of mouth plays a crucial role in recruiting international students.
"How do other students know about TAMIU? I tell my friend back home and he tells 10 other students," Devarashetty said, "Earlier, nobody in Hyderabad knew about TAMIU."
While at TAMIU, Devarashetty has also earned a master's degree in information systems.
"I want to get a good job, and work somewhere that pays me well. That's why I'm getting two masters," he said.
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