INTO OSU on target to meet goals

Some nine months after Oregon State signed an agreement to team with INTO University Partnerships on an initiative to recruit international students to the university, the fruits of many thousands of hours of labor is beginning to pay off.

Chris Bell, leader of the INTO transition team, opens a ventilation flap on an old window in Heckart Lodge, a former student co-op which is being transformed into classroom and office space for the INTO Program. While the building is being modernized, because of historic district standards, it may retain some of its quaint aspects, such as the ventilation panels. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Chris Bell, leader of the INTO transition team, opens a ventilation flap on an old window in Heckart Lodge, a former student co-op which is being transformed into classroom and office space for the INTO Program. While the building is being modernized, because of historic district standards, it may retain some of its quaint aspects, such as the ventilation panels. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

This summer, the first INTO students will arrive to participate in a pair of language programs to prepare them to become full-fledged OSU students. Campus leaders estimate that roughly 100 students, mostly from Asia, will enroll in Academic English and another 30 students in General English.

This fall, a series of “pathway” programs will bring more international students to campus. These one-year programs have options in business, engineering, science and general studies and are designed to ease international students’ transition to a new country, improve language skills and introduce them to their intended major. An estimated 165 students will participate in the pathway programs, bringing the total number of students under the INTO OSU umbrella to about 300 for fall term.

“We’re right on target with our goals,” said Chris Bell, a former associate dean of engineering and the lead for OSU on the INTO transition team. “The complexity and level of detail is sometimes staggering, but it is coming together, thanks to a lot of hard work from OSU faculty and staff and the INTO team. It’s really an extraordinary initiative that will benefit the university for years to come.”

Construction of new classroom and office space in two former co-ops on campus is ongoing.

Construction of new classroom and office space in a former co-op on campus is ongoing.

Last July OSU became the first university in the United States to partner with INTO, an organization that has worked with institutions in the United Kingdom to increase their international student enrollment. The pioneering agreement, reflective of a growing interest in American universities to globalize, was featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere.

Oregon State’s goal, says Provost and Executive Vice President Sabah Randhawa, is to double the university’s international enrollment to make OSU “a truly international university.” Over the past decade, OSU’s percentage of international students has decreased considerably and now stands at about 4.8 percent. The university’s strategic plan calls for OSU to expand its enrollment of international students to 9 percent of the student body.

The purpose is multi-dimensional, Randhawa says. Foremost is a desire to diversify the student body and bring the vast array of global experiences and perspectives international students have to campus. “The diverse international perspectives will enrich the educational experiences of our students who will be living and working in an increasingly global economy and society,” he pointed out.

There also are financial implications: Non-resident students pay higher tuition, and the university is facing budget reductions next biennium that could approach 30 percent.

“One of the concerns we’ve had to address is whether an increase in international students will block access to course sections for domestic students,” Bell said. “In reality, the INTO students are generating additional capacity that will benefit all students.
“There’s a kind of ‘trickle-down’ effect, both in the classroom and with support services,” Bell added. “The revenue brought in from the program will take some of the weight off existing programs.”

During the past several months, Bell and his colleagues have been working to smooth out details on a variety of issues, from how to compensate departments for classes taught to INTO students to creating programs to integrate the students into campus activities. Bell and Steve Walters, who directs the INTO OSU center, have made numerous presentations to faculty and staff around campus.

Walters, who helped launch the first INTO center in the United Kingdom, said many American faculty initially are skeptical of the idea of a system of educational “agents” – until they learn that these agents really are more like counselors, and some 90 percent of students in Asia use them to pursue higher education options.

“The INTO regional managers work in-country with the agents – or counselors – to navigate the system and any language barriers that might arise for the students and their parents,” Walters said. “Imagine if you spoke a few words of Spanish and wanted to go to the University of Madrid. Try working your way through the maze of admissions information and coursework that is online.”

A number of the educational agents/counselors came to OSU earlier this year for a “fam” visit, to familiarize themselves with the university in order to better present its programs to international students.

Julie Walkin recently traveled to China to speak about OSU to potential students there. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Julie Walkin recently traveled to China to speak about OSU to potential students there. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

“Educational agents are providing a service to students and their parents that is in great demand in many parts of the world,” said Julie Walkin of Admissions, who had been OSU’s lone full-time international recruiter prior to the establishment of the INTO center. “We are recognizing the important role they play, and we’re beginning to establish a vast network of professionals, who guide prospective international students from the very beginning of the search all the way to providing help with visas.

“The United States is still the No. 1 destination for the world’s international students,” she added, “but there’s a tremendous amount of competition. With INTO OSU, we are now able to have much greater presence in many countries. We’ve expanded exponentially our connections with students and their parents.”

When the first INTO students arrive on campus this summer, the partnership will evolve from an abstract concept to a reality and the personal stories the students bring with them will add a human element to the initiative.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the sacrifices some people make for their children’s education,” Walters said. “An INTO colleague recently visited a rural village in China and met a family living in a hut with a mud floor. The parents had been selling fruit all day, every day, for 15 years so their child could be educated in America.”

~ Mark Floyd

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