The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that a record number of international students enrolled in American colleges and universities during the 1995-96 academic year, even though the rate of increase in these students has been slowing throughout the 1990s. At Purdue, -- as at most major institutions -- students from other countries traditionally have been most numerous in graduate programs. However, we have made a deliberate attempt to increase the number of foreign undergraduates in recent years. Currently, we are working on a new series of recruiting materials aimed at this group.
The effort ties in with Purdue's internationalization program, which was begun in recognition of the fact that our students now emerge from the University into a global economy. We also have increased opportunities to study abroad, expanded our programs in other countries, enhanced opportunities for students to study foreign languages and cultures, and built international components into many courses.
Between the 1995-96 and 1996-97 academic years, the number of graduate students from other nations stayed steady at about 1,800. However, undergraduates increased from 721 to just over 1,000, an increase of 38 percent. The total is not large in relation to Purdue's undergraduate enrollment of 27,000 at West Lafayette, but it is important.
Young people from other nations bring something special to the University. It is especially important to encourage undergraduates to study here, because they experience the University in a different way than do graduate students. Undergraduates are more likely to live in our residence halls, participate in social activities, and join student organizations. Their presence enhances the educational experience for everyone with whom they come into contact. American students learn about other cultures and practices. Our professors benefit from teaching students who have experienced different pedagogical processes. At the same time, these visitors have the opportunity to get a great education and to take some understanding of our society back to their native lands. Everybody wins!
The international presence on our campuses frequently is misunderstood. Students from other countries do not displace Americans, compete for resources, or qualify for financial aid. Nationally, about 68 percent of the 454,000 foreign students in this country rely primarily on personal or family finances to meet their expenses. Most of the rest receive heavy support from their own governments. At Purdue, they pay full out-of-state fees. The fact that so many of these students bear personally or through their families the expense of traveling to and studying in this country is an indication of how highly respected American colleges and universities are throughout the world.
Just as international students contribute to the University in a unique way, professors from other countries also make a difference -- and their role also is sometimes misunderstood. There is a common misperception that immigrant scientists and engineers are employed by universities and corporations as a cheaper alternative to qualified Americans. But National Science Foundation figures, as recently reported in the journal International Educator , refute that idea.
The median salary of foreign-born scientists and engineers with Ph.D. degrees is slightly higher than that of their American-born counterparts with similar experience. Immigrants also are present in the largest numbers in the fields with the highest employment rates -- indicating that they are meeting personnel needs, rather than displacing Americans.
According to the journal: "The higher salaries for immigrants can be explained by several factors. Immigrants admitted under employment-based preferences are not picked randomly but are carefully selected by employers. Companies say that some of the foreign nationals they recruit not only attend leading universities, but are near the top of their classes. And the immigrants are self-selected, meaning that those who gamble on success in a new country are highly motivated individuals."
By any objective analysis, America is a better country because of the immigrants who have come to our shores throughout our history. In this age of the knowledge-based economy, we should be especially receptive to new Americans with great ideas.
On June 30, WBAA-AM and WBAA-FM, Purdue's listener-supported radio stations, began broadcasting National Public Radio programming after a five-year hiatus. The NPR programs -- always popular with listeners -- were discontinued because of escalating costs, but listeners appealed and offered the financial support needed to restore the programs. It was a fine example of the University and the community working together.
Steven C. Beering