- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Part three of five parts

Students attending Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, come from one of two cities: Cleveland or Bangkok.

“Bangkok stands for any foreign city,” says Malcolm Watson, who directs the college’s master’s of business administration program.

Baldwin-Wallace is like many other American colleges and universities that rely on students from the region for the bulk of enrollment, but covet the diversity and academic acumen that international students contribute to a campus.

Nearly 600,000 foreign students study in the United States annually, most pursuing college degrees in business and science. Most also have, at the urging of their parents, honed English skills since an early age to ensure they can compete in the global work force.

“English is the language of business, higher education, diplomacy, aviation, the Internet, science, popular music, entertainment and international travel. All signs point to its continued acceptance across the planet,” says Mauro E. Mujica, chairman and chief executive officer of U.S. English Inc., who immigrated to the United States from Chile and speaks four languages.

From Asia to Europe to Africa, parents believe that fluency in English — the king’s English, sure, but all the better American style — is essential for their children’s success.

Parents around the globe also see an American education as beneficial even if their child returns from studying in the United States and never leaves his homeland again.

“There are tens of millions of business people who flourish in English who have never had a transaction with an American,” Mr. Watson says.

“About three-fourths of all English that is spoken is used as a second language, not the first. In China, more than 300 million people are studying English, which is more than the number of Americans who know it.”

The spread of the English language, especially as prerequisite to higher education or success in a career, is part of what makes the world more and more “American.” This series examines nonmilitary, nonpolitical aspects of this pervasive U.S. influence — from democratic ideals and entrepreneurial ingenuity to language, sports and popular culture — and some of the consequences and repercussions.

An American education also is becoming increasingly popular with foreign students because of the nature of the instruction, says Peggy Blumenthal, vice president of educational services for Institute of International Education (IIE).

“We teach differently in this country,” Ms. Blumenthal says. “We’re very hands-on, and there is a lot of interaction between faculty and students.”

Such free exchange, she says, contrasts sharply with the far less flexible “lecture system” of many countries’ colleges and universities. Lecturing alone is “not the way to prepare students for business” and other careers, Ms. Blumenthal says.

Flocking from afar

The most popular fields of study for international students in the United States are business and management (19 percent); engineering (17 percent); and mathematics and computer sciences (12 percent), according to IIE.

“These are fields where the United States has a pre-eminent reputation, and many students from abroad are seeking graduate educations,” Ms. Blumenthal says.

In many cases, she says, the students’ home countries “don’t have enough high-qualified graduate programs” in those fields.

This year, India was the leading country of origin for international students, with nearly 80,000. China was second with nearly 62,000, followed by South Korea, with more than 52,000, according to an IIE report.

Asian students make up 57 percent of foreigners who study in this country, the report shows. They are followed by Europeans, who account for 13 percent, and Latin Americans, at 12 percent.

“No doubt a large number of students want to study in the United States, not just because of the quality of education available, but because they understand proficiency in English is essential in a globalized world,” says Robert Pastor, vice president of international affairs at American University.

With nearly 6,700 foreign students, the University of Southern California has the largest international enrollment of any U.S. college. Most are students interested in learning “about American business practices,” says Michael Thompson, USC’s vice provost for enrollment.

“We were founded in 1880, and international students have been part of our mission from the beginning,” Mr. Thompson says.

USC has recruiting offices in Jakarta, Indonesia; Hong Kong; Tokyo; and the Republic of China (Taiwan). Today, Mr. Thompson says, USC trustees and alumni include some of the biggest names in Asian business.

International language

For two years, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press polled 66,000 people from 44 countries on whether children “need to learn English to succeed in the world today.”

The answer was a resounding “yes.”

More than 95 percent of those surveyed in Indonesia, Germany and South Africa agreed that English is necessary for children. More than 90 percent of those surveyed in China, Japan, France and Ukraine agreed.

Only one of the 44 countries had a substantial minority that disagreed — 35 percent of Jordanians said English is not a necessity.

“The importance of learning English is not just a political thing. Pragmatically, we have to have one kind of universal language at a basic level,” says Clara Delgado, director of the University of Dayton’s English Language and Multicultural Institute, one of the oldest language training centers for foreign students in the United States.

Mrs. Delgado says the “dominance” of English in the economic and political realms helps explain why the language has achieved greater influence on the world stage than French, German or Spanish.

Both she and Mr. Watson stress that English is the medium in today’s global information culture.

“There is an economic advantage in having computer programs that can be used by everyone, at least at a basic level,” Mrs. Delgado says.

Jim Hopkins, director of development of the English-Speaking Union of the United States, says an estimated 1 billion people in the world speak English.

“Interest in English has been spurred in the last 10 years by the Internet,” Mr. Hopkins says. “It is the international language of business, and as Britain’s Prince Philip has said, ‘English is the language of agreement.’ ”

Fighting for foreigners

The United States attracts the majority of foreign students seeking college degrees outside their native lands, a $13 billion industry, but other countries are fighting to gain a share of the market.

“Unfortunately, the numbers have been slumping, as the market has been getting tougher and tougher to compete in,” says Sara Dumont, director of the AU Abroad Program at American University.

The number of foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges fell slightly — 2.4 percent — from the 2002-03 school year to the 2003-04 year, according to the IIE report, “Open Doors 2004: International Students in the U.S.”

The largest drops were in those taking “intensive English language,” 15 percent; math and computer sciences, 5.8 percent; health professions, 8.6 percent; and humanities, 13.4 percent.

Educators say the September 11 attacks contributed to the minor drop in foreign student enrollment when new security measures complicated the process for obtaining student visas.

“It’s become more difficult for people in certain countries, such as those in the Mideast and China, to come here,” Ms. Dumont says.

Canada, Britain and Australia are “very aggressively” seeking students from abroad, Ms. Dumont says.

“They are spending a lot more money on recruitment” than the United States is, she notes.

Kelly Shannon, a State Department spokeswoman, points out that bachelor’s and master’s programs are shorter and cheaper in Britain and Australia than in the United States.

Britain, which receives less than half the number of foreign students than the United States, ranks second in foreign student enrollment, followed by Australia, France and Germany.

Turf wars

Some American universities, Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh among them, are fighting back by opening campuses on their rivals’ turf, Ms. Shannon says.

Carnegie-Mellon plans one in southern Australia.

“Lots of us are trying” to reverse recent losses, Ms. Dumont says.

American University’s program is offered at 66 sites in 33 countries, and, in most cases, instruction is in English, associate director Mark Hayes says.

Fully aware that most students in Third World countries cannot afford the university’s $30,000-a-year tuition price tag and travel expenses and that cultural differences and family responsibilities limit others, Ms. Dumont says, the university established a campus in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and plans to open a second in Nigeria.

In addition, Ms. Dumont says, American University is starting a program next year that will allow qualified foreign students to attend the private institution in Northwest Washington for a semester or a full year at less than half the normal price.

“There will be a maximum of 50 students in the pilot program, and they will be arriving here from Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and the Mideast,” Ms. Dumont says.

Ms. Shannon says the federal government, despite post-September 11 precautions, made great strides in improving clearance times for visas. The average wait for those seeking science and technology transfers has been cut from 75 days to 15 days.

And the wait is worth it.

“The United States is still the world’s premier destination for education … for example, the top 100 master’s in business administration programs are in the United States,” Ms. Shannon says.

Two-thirds of all international students enrolled in institutions of higher education in the United States get financial help from their families or other personal sources.

When aid from their home governments or universities is added in, nearly 75 percent of all funding for international undergraduate students comes from sources outside the United States, according to IIE.

Ms. Blumenthal says the share of American money available for foreign students often is higher at the graduate level.

“Large research institutions in the United States have made a real commitment to recruit the best and the brightest,” she says, “and they have scholarships and research grants available.”

Part II:

America becomes global marketplace

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