International student enrollment rising

By Thomas Pardee

Columbia is seeing a steady rise in its number of international students, according to new enrollment figures released on Sept. 10.

According to the college’s annual fall enrollment report, a new batch of 29 international students enrolled at Columbia this semester, up from 27 new international students in 2007.In 2006, 226 international students enrolled. This semester, 134 international students are studying at Columbia in total, up from 128 last fall.

This trend toward increased international enrollment comes as the college amps up its recruiting efforts overseas. This month, for the second year in a row, the college will send a recruiter to Asia to visit high schools in eight countries-including Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand-as part of a month-long traveling college fair.

Columbia also recently sent recruiters to India and the Bahamas for the first time, said Gemini Wadley, assistant director for Diversity Recruitment in the Undergraduate Admissions office.

Despite a “modest” increase this year, the college has yet to feel the effects of these more rigorous recruitment efforts, said Murphy Monroe, executive director of Undergraduate Admission.

“We’re planting long-term seeds,” Monroe said. “Any direct recruitment we’re doing doesn’t correlate to new students for two or three years.”

Gigi Posejpal, assistant dean of International Student Affairs, said the college has been informally recruiting in foreign countries for years through its many networking contacts. She said this new formalized effort will soon start to pay off if the college continues to be an active recruiter.

“We can’t recruit for one year and expect to have a big return immediately,” she said. “Usually, when people try to break into a certain market, you could be looking at a three-to-five year period to see the fruits of your labor. It takes repeated contacts, repeated visits.”

Posejpal said international student enrollment is a complex process, and because federal aid isn’t available to non-citizens, only students who can prove they are financially able to attend the college are accepted. This makes targeting students for recruitment a “layered” process.

“We’re definitely looking at a very niche market,” Posejpal said. “We are not an institution that is offering degrees in engineering, business administration, accounting or psychology. We’re definitely attractive to a certain market, those who are looking for education in the arts and media, just like here in the States. And, international students have to take a more creative approach to financing.”

Posejpal said a certain level of English proficiency is also necessary to attend Columbia. This rings true for Yohei Watanabe, a senior arts entrepreneurship major and international student from Sendai City, Japan.

Watanabe said adjusting to United States culture was difficult, but Columbia was a good choice for him in the end.

“[The adjustment] can be hard, especially if you don’t speak English,” he said. “That made discussion classes hard. But I like Columbia-the class sizes are small, the teachers are usually helpful and everyone is really nice.”

Watanabe said he hopes to take his degree and eventually return to Japan, with the goal of opening up a live music bar in Tokyo.

“What I’m studying really matches what I want to do,” Watanabe said. “It would be hard to find that elsewhere.”

Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, said as the college accepts more and more international students, its approach to recruiting them will be the same as its approach to recruiting domestically.

“Our stature and reputation is increasing, and the seriousness with which we’re viewed in the larger world is changing,” Kelly said. “We’re doing the same thing with international recruitment, but it will take time.”