Monday, May 11, 2009

New admissions counselor focuses on international students

By Courtney Westlake






More and more college students today are looking to go beyond the borders of their native countries to study abroad, and that has become a positive thing for United States and for UIS.

Though facts like the U.S. is one of the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to education can sometimes deter students from other countries from seeking to study here, universities like UIS also have a lot of offer, and that is what Samba Dieng is using to counteract those drawbacks.

Dieng arrived at UIS in December 2008 as the first-ever international admissions counselor who specializes in international recruiting. Dieng, who was born in Senegal in West Africa, received his master’s degree in international relations and political science from Indiana State University and decided to pursue a career working with international students.

“Recruiting international students is crucial to any institution,” Dieng said. “International students bring differing perspectives to the classroom and to the dormitories. They are great addition to any campus. International students also bring in tuition dollars, which is important.”

International recruiting had not been a priority at UIS in previous years due to the fact that UIS has only recently become a four-year institution, Dieng said, but that is changing. UIS now has an international recruiting taskforce on campus to discuss issues involving international students and recruiting strategies.

“A well-reasoned approach, especially for an institution that has not really been in this business before, is to target very specific areas, like Asia and Latin America, instead of trying to recruit from all parts of the world,” Dieng said. “Specializing in specific areas will help us not only with understanding the cultures there but also with our future and where we want to have a presence five or 10 years from now.”

Competing on the international scene can be extremely challenging, especially being in competition with countries like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, who are not only very aggressive in terms of recruitment but also have country support, Dieng said.

Additionally, the effects of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were tremendous as students found it difficult to get a visa to come to the U.S. and the U.S. lost much political credibility in other parts of the world, he said. More recently, the current economic crisis has also slowed down international recruitment because students are worried about the future of the U.S.

And soon, an initiative called the Bologna Accord in Europe will allow European students to move freely to any country in Europe – up to 40 different countries – to study, Dieng said, which could present another challenge in recruiting European students to the U.S.

“That being said, I think we have a whole lot to sell,” he noted. “I don't know of any other country that spends more on students’ success that the United States. You go to any institution and you see an advising center, a writing center, a diversity center - all sorts of centers and organizations focused on students’ successes.”

Part of Dieng’s job is finding out what matters to international students who are looking to study abroad and why UIS and its academic programs could be a good fit for them, which is key to UIS’ success in international recruiting.

“We need a more nuanced funnel when we’re dealing with international students,” he said. “We need better communication because they ask so many more questions than domestic students. We need to mention things like small class size – a 12 to one ratio with faculty – as well as location and safety.”

“The quality of education itself matters a whole lot to international students, and besides location and quality of education, safety matters the most,” he added. “I think any institution needs to put in the time, personnel and resources in order to be successful with the international recruitment initiative.”

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