Study abroad on rise at WMU, international enrollment holds steady

Contact: Margaret von Steinen

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Programs and initiatives launched in fall 2014 at Western Michigan University prompted a 15 percent increase in study abroad participation last year.

That's just one of many comparisons officials in WMU's Haenicke Institute for Global Education are able to make following the Nov. 16 release of the 2015 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.

The document is a census published annually by the Institute of International Education with support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It covers study abroad participation during the 2013-14 academic year and international student enrollment during the 2014-15 academic year.

The newly released report notes that the University sent 498 students outside of the United States in 2013-14 to earn academic credit and increase their global competency. WMU study abroad personnel calculate that 572 students studied abroad in 2014-15, a 15 percent increase over the previous academic year.

"One of the major challenges for students who wish to attain a study abroad experience as part of their degree program is securing scholarships and other sources of funding," notes Jane Blyth, Haenicke Institute executive director. "So the WMU President's Grant for Study Abroad and Haenicke Institute for Global Education Scholarship for Study Abroad have been particularly influential in spurring the growth in our study abroad enrollment."

Blyth adds that an airfare scholarship applicable to WMU's record number of 34 short-term, faculty-led programs is planned for 2016 to provide additional support for bridging the financial gap.

WMU awarded nearly $500,000 in student scholarships for study abroad during the 2013-14 year, with $400,000 coming from University sources. The top five destinations for WMU students were Italy (63), Spain (46), the United Kingdom (46), Ireland (40), Germany (30) and China (30).

International student enrollment

The Open Doors report covers the 2014-15 academic year for international student enrollment, and percentages of change are based on comparisons to 2013-14. Between that period, WMU's international student enrollment grew by 9.8 percent, raising last fall's total to 1,854 international students representing 105 countries.

The increase solidified the University's place as the higher education institution in Michigan with the fourth largest international student enrollment. This fall, WMU data shows an additional 0.3 percent increase over the enrollment number reported last year in the Open Doors report. The University now has 1,859 international students on campus representing about 100 countries, and they comprise 7.9 percent of the total student body.

WMU's enrollment increases in recent years are a reflection of national trends, as revealed in the Open Doors report. It found that the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities increased to a record high of 974,926 in 2014, contributing more than $30.5 billion to the economy.

Students from around the world who study in the United States also contribute to America's scientific and technical research and bring international perspectives into U.S. classrooms, helping prepare American undergraduates for global careers, which often lead to longer-term business relationships.

WMU and national trends

Dr. Wolfgang Schlör, associate provost of the Haenicke Institute, says the University's growing number of international students reflects national trends as well as some of WMU's special-focus areas.

This fall, for instance, WMU attracted an 18 percent increase in students from India and an 8 percent increase in students from Saudi Arabia—two countries Open Doors notes are having a significant national impact on growth. At WMU this fall, the top five countries for international enrollment are Saudi Arabia (494), India (321), China (267), the Dominican Republic (117) and Iraq (86).

Schlör says the increases in students hailing from certain countries is bolstered by a strong Fulbright student population at the University, which currently stands at 27 Fulbright Fellows representing more than 16 countries, and four Fulbright Fellows who were admitted to doctoral programs after they completed master's degrees at WMU.

In addition to WMU's degree-seeking students, the intensive English language program in the Center for English Language and Culture for International Students—CELCIS—is continuing to attract students from around the globe. Enrollment reached 205 students in fall 2015 and included two short-term sessions for students from Japan. Increased geographic diversity among the CELCIS student population is anticipated for spring 2016.

After completing the English language program, most CELCIS students will enroll at WMU to pursue degrees in undergraduate and graduate programs. The high quality of their language training was internationally recognized in September when CELCIS was reaccredited for 10 years and became one of only six intensive English programs worldwide to earn a second reaccreditation through the Commission on English Language.

In rounding out the details on WMU's international engagement with students and scholars, Schlör says the campus hosted or employed 144 international scholars in 2014-2015. The scholars represented international tenure-track and visiting faculty, research staff and other visitors. WMU's total international community exceeded 2,800 in that year and included students, scholars, post-graduates doing practical training and dependent family members.

Enormous local economic benefits

International students bring enormous economic benefits to their colleges' home communities. This week, NAFSA: Association of International Educators released its annual analysis outlining the economic value international students and their dependents contribute to the United States.

The latest figures for the 2014-15 academic year show that international students and their dependents contributed $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy, and NAFSA estimates that 373,000 jobs were created or supported during the same time frame. This is a 9.7 percent increase in job support and creation, and a nearly 14 percent increase in dollars contributed to the economy over the previous academic year.

According to the NAFSA report, Michigan's Sixth Congressional District, in which WMU is located, has a total international student enrollment of 2,889 students. These students generated more than $82.6 million of activity in the local economy and about 1,l09 jobs in direct and indirect service areas during the past year.