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Iowa college attracting international students

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 11:12 a.m. CDT

CEDAR FALLS (AP) — While some Iowa universities clamor to attract resident students, the University of Northern Iowa has its eyes fixed abroad.

The University of Iowa recently launched a marketing blitz to attract Iowans, a reaction to a major policy change by the Iowa Board of Regents which links nearly $500 million in state funds to enrolling in-state students, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported .

While UNI is also marketing in Iowa and the Midwest, it also is gradually stepping up its recruitment of international students, an effort which officials say will bring valuable diversity to campus and generate tuition revenue.

“This is a big change, but we’re not worried about it,” Scott Ketelsen, director of UNI relations, said of the new funding model.

Roughly 90 percent of UNI’s student population is made up of Iowans who pay lower tuition, which had been the source of its budget woes. But over the next two years, the overall number of direct-from-high-school students in Iowa will drop, said Ketelsen.

“For us it’s never been ‘We want to have every single Iowa student come to UNI, it’s been about raising awareness of the positives of UNI so we get a larger market share,” Ketelsen said.

UNI’s recruitment of Iowa and out-of-state students started a year ago with six new television ads, online ads and billboards in the Twin Cities. The university is seeking to expand its reach, possibly to India and Brazil, and to strengthen existing links with China.

This summer, university administration traveled to Asia hoping to form partnerships that get more international students on campus.

Terry Hogan, vice president for student affairs, met with representatives from Chinese institutions in Inner Mongolia this month.

President Bill Ruud and the Farzad Moussavi, dean of the UNI College of Business, will also travel to China to explore new and expand current programs at four Asian universities.

Their objectives are to diversify the Cedar Falls campus, generate tuition revenue and provide international experiences for faculty.

Chinese students “like to study in the U.S. because an American education is highly valued. And it’s a large market and it’s a growing economic power, so for the business school it makes perfect sense to work with China,” Moussavi said.

Students enrolled in UNI’s 2+2 program at Shanghai Dianji University spend two years at their home university and two at UNI, earning a degree from both.

Jingyi “Jenny” Wang, 21, will graduate from that program in May with a degree in financial investment.

Wang is paying two tuitions. UNI charges about $16,000 per year, six times more than Chinese tuition. But having an American degree should make Wang stand out among other job applications in China.

“When we meet leaders from America, we won’t have those cultural differences because of the things we studied in America. That’s good for business,” Wang said.

Students must have a qualifying GPA and pass a Cambridge or TOEFL English qualification exam to be accepted.

“For the first semester it’s really hard. You need to use English every day. All your courses are in English, and your professors speak English,” Wang said. “But we still get a lot of help. The professors here are really nice.”

In Dianji, a professor may have 80 students per class and doesn’t have time to meet one on one. Each class has a student leader who acts as a liaison between other students and the professor. Wang said she likes UNI’s intimate interaction with instructors.

Wang is one of two Chinese students from her program who decided to stay in Iowa this summer. Coming from one of the largest cities in the world, Wang said it’s hard to find things to do in Cedar Falls, especially without a car or fast public transportation. But she’s adjusting.

Chinese nationals counted for only a quarter of UNI’s 520 international students in fall 2013, thousands less than the University of Iowa hosts every year.

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