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Portland State University is a bustling global village as hundreds of students from scores of countries fan across a sunny campus in small tour groups preparing them for a new school year.
Among them are a dozen international students led by A.C. Nguyen, a PSU student and American from Salem, who shows them where they can study, use computers, bowl, play video games, pray, work out, recycle, register, eat, rent bicycles, get help, hang out.
"I love this place," says Sree Bharat Dasari, 21, who arrived a month ago from southern India. "It is so pleasant."
Akari Handa, 22, of Japan, transferred to PSU from a smaller college in Kansas.
"The people are a little bit weird compared to Kansas," she says.
As classes begin today, Oregon's seven universities expect the largest number of international students ever, even as total enrollment will hit a record, probably topping 100,000. While overall enrollment in Oregon universities climbed 20 percent in the four years ending last fall, international student enrollment surged 45 percent to 5,695 students.
That's about twice the rate international enrollment climbed among colleges and universities nationwide during the same period. The U.S. total for students from abroad hit 691,000 last fall.
Both in Oregon and nationally, universities are attracting large numbers of students from China, India and South Korea. Oregon also draws a big share of students from Saudi Arabia and Japan. Oregon State University, which expects international enrollment to surpass 1,800 this fall, is opening a 365-bed dormitory, half for international students, with classrooms and laboratories for a program that helps international students adjust. PSU already has one building, East Hall, to support international students and Americans studying abroad. PSU and the University of Oregoneach may see enrollment for students from other countries top 2,000 this year.
Roger Thompson, vice provost for enrollment management, says the UO expects the most diverse entering class in its history.
Universities in Oregon and across the country vigorously recruit abroad because high nonresident tuition helps offset cuts in state funding.
The U.S. market share in international students, however, is slowly being eroded by competition from universities in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China, writes Ben Wildavsky in his recently published book, "The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World."
Even so, the U.S. higher education system remains the gold standard with its diversity of institutions, range of prices and practical, interactive instructional methods, says Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president of the private, non-profit Institute of International Education.
"We are getting the best and the brightest," she says.
In a survey of more than 9,000 students published by the institute in May, three-fourths of students around the world reported U.S. colleges and universities offer the highest quality and are their top choice for study abroad.
Why choose Oregon?
Students from other countries often choose Oregon universities because they've heard about them from friends or relatives, but some also are drawn by prices or specific programs. Intel, for example, annually provides scholarships for 25 students from Vietnam to study two years at PSU. They then return to Vietnam to work for Intel's operations there.
Sophie Becker, 22, graduated from Reutlingen University in her native Germany and enrolled at PSU this fall to earn her master's of business administration. She learned of PSU through its partnership with Reutlingen.
"I've heard a lot of great things about Portland, and I never lived on the West Coast," says Becker, who speaks flawless English, having spent some childhood years in other parts of the United States. "I just love it that people are so different here, and you can be what you want to be. People are so friendly."
PSU also has a partnership with the University of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador, that allows Amaya Navarrete, 22, to spend a year at PSU studying architecture at the same price she pays in her country. She chose PSU, she says, for its emphasis on sustainable design and green architecture.
Oregon's four regional campuses collectively enrolled fewer than 500 students from other countries last year. Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, however, drew Bikash Kadariya, 23, this fall from a community college in Houston, Texas, where he lived three years. He was attracted to Eastern, he says, because it is surrounded by mountains like his native Nepal and is one of the few U.S. schools that do not charge higher tuition for out-of-state students.
International students are like gold for other Oregon universities because they pay three times what resident students pay for tuition. The state's three research universities aggressively court students from other countries.
PSU President Wim Wiewel recruited in Indonesia this summer. OSU has contracted with Into, a British company, to help it attract students around the world. The UO over the last year sent recruiters to China, Japan, South Korea, the Middle East and Mexico, Thompson says. "This year we're adding India to the mix," he says.
A survey of college admissions officers released this month by Inside Higher Ed, an online news organization, found a push to recruit more out-of-state and international students among all sectors of higher education. "A top goal of admissions directors is recruiting more students who can pay more," the group reported.
Oregon university officials, however, say they also want more international students so they can expose all students to other cultures and the diverse work world they will compete in. OSU, for example, wants to boost its international enrollment from last year's 6.5 percent of total to 10 percent, says Sabah Randhawa, the provost.
"Our students are going to be working in a global economy," he says. "We can create an environment where they do spend time with international students that really enriches their education."