CHARLESTON -- Eastern Illinois University saw a larger and better represented population of international students for the spring semester.
This time last year, there were 327 enrolled at the university representing 39 countries. This spring, those numbers rose to 332 and 55, respectively. While the difference in the population is small, EIU officials see it as a victory.
"Considering the federal challenges all universities have had with visa approvals, seeing our new international numbers increase for the spring was unexpected, but certainly welcome," said Josh Norman, EIU’s associate vice president for enrollment management.
The university along with other institutions across the country have not been lacking in applicants but lacking in those who can get into the U.S. As previously reported in the JG-TC, visa approvals have been harder to come by under current foreign policy.
Although that is still the case, international staffers have been finding other avenues of recruiting students and better communicating with students whose visa applications are pending, said Andy Kabasele, assistant dean for international education.
"They are doing an excellent job of diversifying our recruitment efforts to ensure we are attracting the best and brightest students from a broader international scope," Norman said.
Kabasele said the international team did not limit themselves to external recruitment in recent months. EIU is looking inward to find its students, notably international students who are already in the country as high school students.
The team is also increasing the ways in which they touch base with students, specifically through text.
Regarding the visa process: "You can't change that," Kabasele said. So, they are working with what they can change. He noted it is still an issue, though. In fall, 171 international students who would have been accepted hit the visa-denial roadblock. In spring, the number of denied visas was 131.
These prospective students are getting stopped during the visa application process, often for one reason: a suspected "intent to immigrate."
Although the increase was marginal, EIU officials hailed the diversity in the group of students at Eastern: 55 countries are represented at EIU, among which a handful are first-time representatives of their country, including a student from Serbia. Kabasele said new additions to the international population from last spring come from Belgium, Kenya, South Africa and Ireland.
For students, namely international students, diversity among the population is a big deal. Jaismeen Dua, a student from India, said it adds to the experience of studying abroad.
"It definitely adds to the richness of the celebrations," Dua said, speaking of some of the international events that take place throughout the year at the university.
"You get to learn so much more: the languages, the way they dress, the traditions."
For Dua, the whole point is to immerse oneself in other countries' cultures. A dominant country represented on campus is India. So, when more students hail from different regions, it is exciting.
"I could not expect to always have Indians by my side," she said. "The whole point of studying in an international country especially in the States is -- you obviously have good quality education-- but also become more open and grow as a person because you meet so many people."
Campus-wide, there were more students this spring than this time last year. As previously reported, EIU saw an almost identical increase in spring to spring enrollment as they did in the fall, according to 10th-day enrollment numbers, the nationally accepted standard for tracking university and college enrollments.
After reporting a 5 percent increase in spring-to-spring enrollment a year ago, Eastern enrollment has jumped another 7 percent from spring 2018 to spring 2019.
The 10-year goal (2027) for EIU officials is to see enrollment between 9,000 and 10,000 students total.
"I firmly believe we are on target to meet that goal," Norman said.