Education as an export
By JOYCE L. CARROLL | January 22,2013
Shuai Qu, Wenjun Wu, Han Chen, and Shangyu Cai are international students attending Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester.
Stroll the grounds of Vermont’s colleges and universities and you will find a microcosm of the world: Students from the next town over share life experiences in the classroom with those coming from as far as Cambodia.
Exportation, more readily associated with material goods, also applies to services. Education ranks high in Vermont and across the U.S. as a significant source of dollars that flow into our country. As the fifth-largest service export in the nation, education and training boosted the U.S. economy by $21 billion in the 2010-2011 academic year.
According to the Open Doors report released in November and produced by the Institute of International Education, Vermont took in approximately $40.2 million from expenses incurred by international students during the 2011-2012 academic year. Moreover, the number of international students enrolled in higher education in Vermont increased by 3.3 percent from the previous year.
Among the top five colleges and universities in the state with an international enrollment were the University of Vermont (UVM), and St. Michael’s, Champlain, and Bennington colleges. Dominant student populations came from China, Canada, India, South Korea, and Japan. However, these institutions and others in the state also boast populations from Africa, much of Europe, and South America.
Despite these gains, Vermont’s low population and small size placed it near the bottom for international enrollment numbers when compared to the rest of the U.S.; however, in a state where most schools have undergraduate populations of under 4,000, the percentage of international students speaks louder than the actual numbers.
Percentages ranged from 10 percent to 13 percent at Middlebury College in Middlebury, to 1.8 percent of undergraduate enrollment at UVM in Burlington, where increasing international enrollment is a priority for new UVM President Thomas Sullivan. The university is the state’s largest higher-education institution, with a 2012 undergraduate enrollment of more than 10,000.
“What we can offer is a safe place and a clean environment that offers a family-friendly perspective of the United States,” said Susan Murray, Vermont director for the U.S. Export Assistance Center of the U.S. Department of Commerce. “The United States is sometimes viewed through our largest cities. People are surprised at how community-centered Vermont is, and that there are places like this in the U.S.”
In neighboring New Hampshire, Dartmouth College in Hanover topped the list of institutions with the greatest number of international students. That state’s overall international enrollment increased by 10.9 percent from the previous year, and resulted in $96.3 million in state revenue. This year, 73 countries are represented at the college.
“Most international students pay more in tuition that U.S. students do; students who have the wherewithal to come to school in the U.S. are [typically] more wealthy,” said Kevin Spensley, director of international enrollment at St. Michael’s College in Colchester.
At St. Michael’s College, where tuition is $32,000 a year, those dollars add up. As non-U.S. citizens, international students aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, although some schools will dispense need-based aid or merit scholarships from their private endowments.
Spreading the wealth
While tuition is a given, international dollars flow into the communities surrounding Vermont’s college towns, touching virtually every sector of the marketplace.
“International students are not coming with a U-Haul with all they need for their dorm room,” said Chris Lucier, vice president for enrollment management at UVM. Families traveling from overseas frequent Vermont’s malls and shopping centers for their students’ day-to-day needs, stay in the state’s hotels, and visit ski areas and other points of interest.
The dollars extend beyond state borders, added Spensley of St. Michaels College. “If a family is going to visit their son or daughter in Vermont, perhaps they’ll visit the Grand Canyon, too, if they’ve never been before,” Spensley said.
Marketing to the world
In spite of geopolitical views that sometimes paint an unfavorable picture of the U.S., there is tremendous interest in receiving an American education, said Maria Laskaris, director of admissions at Dartmouth College.
“The U.S. is seen as having incredible opportunities. People are hungry for higher education,” she said. “The U.S. is a highly desirable destination for education, and our education is seen as the gold standard.”
Competition for higher-education students is great, however, and Vermont and New Hampshire not only compete with the rest of the country for international students, but other countries as well. While Chinese students are the most represented group at U.S. colleges and universities, Lucier said a change in the tuition policy in the United Kingdom could see a rise of students from that part of the world.
Marketing to an international audience requires a multi-pronged strategy — one where overseas visits, interactive Web sites, social media, and time-tested word-of-mouth all play a role. Field offices of Education USA, a U.S. Department of State-supported network, also advise and promote awareness. And, the U.S. Department of Commerce maintains 120 offices overseas, providing an on-the-ground presence worldwide, said Murray.
Added Laskaris: “We take advantage of our current student population when they travel overseas.”
Tables at college fairs held in countries around the world are manned by alumni and students equally enthusiast to sing their campuses’ praises.
“We have a presence beyond our staff at those events,” said Barbara Marlow, associate director for international admissions at Middlebury College.
Collaboration is a Vermont hallmark in both the private and public sector, and education is no exception. Marketing strategies and best-practice implementation are commonplace topics of conversation for members of Education Vermont U.S.A. Founded by Jim Cross, associate provost and senior international officer at Champlain College, Education Vermont U.S.A. will sponsor its second annual International Best Practices Conference in March. Murray’s office within the U.S. Commerce Department is also a stakeholder.
“About three years ago, Vermont came together through the support of the state and my office to form a formal organization. It is unique in that it’s the only group where we market and brand Vermont to the international market to provide mentoring and support [to each other]. We’re all at the same table to talk about international opportunities,” Murray said.
With rare exceptions, Education Vermont U.S.A. has full participation from Vermont’s colleges, universities, and several of the private prep schools that also market to an international audience.
Prep schools like Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester market to international high-school students, in part to augment Vermont’s universal declining high-school enrollment (a factor due to population shifts), and in order to provide a richer array of classes beyond traditional curriculum. With a student population of 680, approximately nine percent are international students at Burr and Burton, who pay full tuition, room, and board of $38,800 a year.
Still, Vermont high school students attending Burr and Burton are exposed to youth from Russia, China, Bolivia, and many other countries.
“The international students increase our enrollment and [allow for] better resources that benefit all our students,” said Andrea Thulin, international program director. She said a number of those who graduate from the prep school go on to U.S. colleges and universities.
“My view is that all students benefit when we have different students in the classroom, whether those differences are international and cultural, religious, or even [students coming from] single-parent households,” said Marlow of Middlebury College.
The college administrators interviewed for this story agreed that classroom discussions inclusive of such diversity add a dimension to learning not gleaned from textbooks or lectures. Marlow rattled off an A-to-Z list of the 47 countries represented in Middlebury classrooms. Students come from Burundi and Cambodia, from Israel and the West Bank, and countries, she said, that ranged from war-torn to wealthy. In some cases, students who otherwise would have only the narrowest perspective of their neighbors if on native soil sit side-by-side in the classroom.
Visas for international students mandate a return to their native country following their four-year education, although an additional year referred to as OPT, or optional practical training, permits a year in the U.S. work force to acquire job skills. These post-graduate experiences, along with internships, offer a rewarding experience for not only the graduate, but the employer as well, as today’s corporate world works to reach a more global audience.
At Champlain College in Burlington, where career preparation is a priority, classroom diversity is an early investment with far-reaching outcomes, said Ian Mortimer, vice president of enrollment services. “It’s not about getting a job, but lifelong career management.
“To be a successful professional in the 21st century, you must be familiar, comfortable, and motivated to engage with individuals from different backgrounds, languages, and cultures,” Mortimer said.
Added Marlow, “Globally, businesswise, or any other way, the only way to have a peaceful world is if we all understand each other better.”