Miami foreign enrollments rising
International enrollment at most Miami-Dade County post-secondary schools exceeded national levels, with local nonprofit private schools reporting the highest figures.
The University of Miami reported the highest percentage of international students at 15%, a number that has increased by one percentage point each year since 2009.
It was trailed by Johnson & Wales University at 12% for its North Miami campus, Florida Memorial University at 10%, St. Thomas University at 9% and Barry University at 7% for its Miami Shores campus. Florida International University had a 4.8% international student enrollment. (Universities provided fall 2013 figures mainly for full-time degree-seeking students studying on F-1 visas, but some schools included non-degree seeking students here for a certificate program.)
These figures are higher than the about 3.8% international student enrollment for fall 2012 reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In addition, a 2012 report published on the Association of International Educators’ website said about 3.5% of US campus enrollment is international.
It’s more than South Florida’s warm weather and diversity that account for the higher international student numbers.
“There are push and pull factors,” said Mark Reid, associate dean of enrollment management and executive director of international admission at the University of Miami. “Push factors would be political unrest. Pull factors would be something that attracts a student to a particular university.”
When a push factor is at play, students who came for a bachelor’s often stay for a master’s, a doctorate or for practical training, Mr. Reid said.
“It’s quite a while to allow for the economy to improve in their home country and for the political situation to improve,” he said.
Pull factors include learning Spanish in South Florida, name-recognition – as in the case of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute or Miller School of Medicine – and learning US business practices, Mr. Reid said.
South Florida is in accord with one national trend: Most international students come from Asia, mainly China.
“There was a time when the Latin population was the most thriving population,” said Toni Mountain, associate dean of students at St.Thomas University.
“Three years back we developed an initiative to aggressively recruit from the Pacific” area, she said. “If you look at the national trends, particularly the Asian student population, that’s a population that really wants to come to the US to study.”
St.Thomas has also recruited from India, Brazil and Peru among others, Ms. Mountain said.
At UM and FIU, Chinese students accounted for the highest number of international students for fall 2013 at about 37% and 22% respectively. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of Chinese students at Johnson and Wales doubled from 15 to 30, an increase partially attributed to a new English as a Second Language program, said Jeff Greenip, director of admissions at the school’s North Miami campus.
At 1.8% international students for fall 2013, Miami Dade College was the only South Florida school surveyed that reported a percentage lower than national figures.
The international student population decreased by about 48 students from the prior year, said Dulce Beltran, Miami Dade College registrar.
“Our main student population for international students comes from Venezuela,” she said, adding that Venezuelans accounted for about 29% of the international student body in fall 2013. Now “Venezuela is making it more difficult for international students. They have to present more documentation to their government.”
Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens reported that its largest international student group comes from the Bahamas, accounting for about 60% of its overall international student enrollment for fall 2013, according to Trevor Lewis, international student adviser.
Florida Memorial has had an increase in its Senegalese student population.
“I believe we may have more people from Senegal here than other schools around here,” Mr. Lewis said. “We have students who have come here and go back home and tell them about Florida Memorial.… They probably want to come to a school where they want to identify with the population, and they feel there’s some commonality.”
That “commonality,” Mr. Lewis said, is what probably what drives foreign students – from China and Venezuela to the Bahamas and Senegal – to South Florida.
He added: “The students can really get support from the people who are already here.”