By Kayla Lasure
Eastern’s efforts to increase its enrollment figures may have stalled recently, but the university has found success in one small but growing area: international students.
Over the past two years, the number of international students at Eastern has increased by nearly 30 percent-from 266 in 2011 to 342 students this year.
School officials say there are a variety of factors contributing to the increase.
“Some reasons the enrollment is up may be the economy in certain countries sometimes could be looking to send people elsewhere, the students may know people here, or it could be new program or scholarship in their country we may not know about,” said Bill Holmes, the director of the Office of International Education. “We also have developed a new system that sends back paperwork to the students faster.”
Sending paperwork back fairly quickly may not seem like a big deal, but it seems to be a factor that could have helped the international enrollment numbers climb. Holmes said their department is not allowed to recruit students until the spring, so up until then all efforts to draw in international students are done through the office.
“Students looks at programs and research them online, and they don’t know one (school) from the other,” Holmes said. “What they do is apply to all of them, and more than likely their choice is based on whatever school gets information back to them the quickest so that they are ensured an international educational experience.”
The application from the student comes to the university, admissions office reviews it and either accepts or denies the student. Then, the admissions office informs the Office of International Education of its decision.
“Typically universities have problems in getting the admission and then telling the student,” said Holmes. “Other schools may take days to review the application and then weeks to mail out. We would have done all of the immigration paperwork within 48 hours and express mailed them back to the student, maybe taking a week total.”
Holmes said many international students are either funded by their government in their country or have to pay out of pocket.
No scholarships are offered at Eastern specifically for international students. Financial aid is not available either. However, international students have the opportunity to apply for any scholarships that Eastern does provide.
For example, scholarships based on academic status or extracurricular activities. The Office of International Education sends information on scholarships that may be available to the individual when they send over the paperwork about the acceptance of the student.
Holmes said this may have been another reason for the increase in enrollment. He said sending students information about scholarships that could help them pay for going to school here may have persuaded students to attend here that may have otherwise chosen not to come to Eastern.
Holmes said he has passion and drive for bringing in international students to Eastern.
“I think it is as important for them to get to know what it’s like in America, as it is for Americans to get to know about them,” Holmes said. “We get a lot of American students here that have not gone abroad, and this gives them the opportunity to get to know these international students and may spark their interest to go abroad and give them ideas for future careers.”
He also said he thought it was important to not only bring these students here for them to learn things about America, but for them to learn specifically about Kentucky as well.
Islambek Amantaev is a junior, accounting major and honors student. He is originally from a country in Asia called Kyrgyzstan and initially came to Eastern for the EELI program.
The EELI program is for international students who have not yet developed the English language skills necessary for university study. Amantaev completed this program in six months and still wanted to stay at Eastern.
“I really liked the campus. Richmond is a quiet and safe place and I thought it was a perfect place to study. Big cities have a lot of distractions and they are less safe,” Amantaev said. “Second reason was people; in general people in Kentucky are very friendly in comparison to other states I’ve been to; people here are always willing to help.”
Amantaev also said he thought it was a good idea to study abroad. He explained how he thought studying abroad would help people getting to know other cultures, languages and traditions can be very beneficial in today’s world.
“All the countries interact with each other like never before, so I think it is very important to go internationally,” Amantaev said. “Another good reason to study internationally is some kinds of networking; you can make friends with students from all over the world.”
Holmes said he isn’t sure if the enrollment of international student at the university will continue to rise or not. He said Eastern’s tuition costs and government payment from other countries could be factors to help the enrollment numbers, but could also maybe hurt the amount of international students here. Holmes says he will keep an optimistic outlook on the subject as they travel to Japan, China, Korea, Hungary, Turkey, Germany, and Asia in the spring to start recruiting students to attend Eastern.