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Local colleges struggle to attract students from afar

Concordia College international student Oluchukwu Ezeugo had to delay her studies a semester when her visa application was denied. The journalism student from Nigeria was frustrated to receive no explanation for the denial. But Ezeugo was set on ...

Concordia College international student Oluchukwu Ezeugo had to delay her studies a semester when her visa application was denied.

The journalism student from Nigeria was frustrated to receive no explanation for the denial.

But Ezeugo was set on attending the Moorhead college she found on the Internet, so she waited a few months and applied again.

Successful the second time, 18-year-old Ezeugo moved to Moorhead in December 2004 and began studying at Concordia last spring.

Tighter visa restrictions since Sept. 11, 2001, and a $100 fee foreign students began paying last year made the Unites States seem less welcoming, said Don Buegel, director of Concordia's international programs.


Nationally, the number of international students coming to the United States has decreased, but statistics show the numbers are starting to rebound.

Concordia saw a slight decline in international student enrollment this year, but Minnesota State University Moorhead and North Dakota State University have seen increases.

"The quality of education is still recognized and highly sought after by many students and families," Buegel said.

Foreign students began paying a $100 fee last year before they could apply for aU.S. visa.

Revenue from the fee supports the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System, a database used by the Department of Homeland Security to track foreign students.

For some foreign students, the $100 fee can be expensive, said Hasmik Harutyunyan of Armenia, an educational adviser who visited area universities last month.

"That's a lot of money," she said. "Usually they're not able to pay that."

Sometimes Armenian students Harutyunyan has advised will find sponsors to pay the $100 fee or seek financial aid.


The fee may prompt foreign students to go elsewhere, Buegel said.

England, Australia and Canada have become increasingly competitive with the United States for international students.

"It (the fee) deters people from studying in the U.S. and enhances the chances that students would study in another country," Buegel said.

In 2004-05, international student enrollment in the United States fell 1 percent, according to Open Doors 2005, a report by the Institute of International Education.

In 2003-04, enrollment decreased 2.4 percent, the first significant decrease in foreign enrollment since 1971, said the IIE.

MSUM has 185 students from 32 countries enrolled this fall, said Jill Holsen, director of International Programs.

That's up about 30 students from last year, she said.

"My sense is we haven't had as many problems as we anticipated," Holsen said.


Many of MSUM's international students transferred there from other U.S. universities because MSUM offers them the same tuition as Minnesota residents, Holsen said.

NDSU has 614 students from 67 countries, said Kerri Spiering, director of International Programs. That's up from 600 the year before.

"Right now NDSU is bucking the trend," Spiering said.

The university's goal is to have 1,000 foreign students.

Concordia had a slight decline this year with 111 students from 33 countries.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman has proposed legislation to combat the decline in international students.

The ACTION Act, which stands for American Competitiveness Through International Openness Now, aims to make it easier for foreign students to get visas.

Coleman, R-Minn., also supports developing a strategic marketing plan to recruit foreign students.


Minnesota saw a 7 percent decrease in international students last year, compared with the 1 percent decrease reported nationally.

The North Dakota Board of Higher Education recently allocated $1.5 million to recruit international students.

The state ranked 45th last year in the number of international students enrolled in public universities or colleges.

North Dakota University System Chancellor Robert Potts recommended the plan to counter declining enrollment facing the state's campuses.

In his recommendation, Potts also cited other benefits of recruiting international students, including the diversity they bring to the state.

The challenge for schools in Minnesota and North Dakota is the region is not well known around the world, Buegel said.

"Schools here have so much to offer to international students, but international families aren't always aware of that," he said.

For Ezeugo, the Concordia student from Nigeria, the Moorhead campus was her top choice of the 10 schools to which she applied.


"I do get the feeling they wanted international students to come to enrich the community," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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