Kent State looks to increase Chinese enrollment

Alison Lucci

For every 50 international students, the university receives around $1 million more in revenue, vice provost says

Jialan “Joanna” Ding, freshman business management major, transferred to Kent State from a university in Beijing. She is one of 53 Chinese students who are new to the university this semester.

INFOBOX ‘Everything is new’: One student’s experience Liu Yang says the opportunity to study at Kent State is like a second chance for her.

“(There are) so many people in China, it’s very hard to go to top universities,” said Yang, freshman communication studies major.

She said admission into well-known Chinese universities is tough for students who don’t have near-perfect grades, so many students choose to study elsewhere.

“People want to go to the U.S. cause because it’s better than other countries,” she said. “Education is the best.”

Yang said tuition at American universities is more expensive than at Chinese universities, but she thinks the price is worth it.

“My family has money to support me, and I want to have high education,” she said.

She said she relied on the services of an independent Chinese recruiting agency to find American universities. Kent State was the only institution the agency told her about, so she applied.

Bei Cai, director of the Kent State’s Beijing Center for International Studies, said foreign universities in China employ recruiting agencies because it requires less resources and money to promote the university. Cai said the agencies profit from assisting students with the application process and visa interviews.

“The relationship between recruiting agencies and foreign universities is an intriguing one,” Cai said. “They do not allow us or the students to have each other’s contact information – they do not want to lose potential customers to us.”

Prior to arriving in January, Yang said her departure to Kent was the first time she left her parents or her city. Yang said she wanted to study in the U.S. to see new things, and her parents encouraged her decision.

“Everything is new,” said Yang, who said she loves the snow in Kent, but is still adapting to American food.

She said she misses the spicy food of China and hopes to move off campus in the future so she can have access to a kitchen.

“Food here, it’s too sweet,” Yang said. “(There are) too many calories in chocolate and cakes.”

Yang said her mother warned before her departure: “You’ll die if you don’t learn to cook.”

-Alison Lucciend

Ding said she learned about Kent State when Bei Cai, director of Kent State’s China Center, spoke to her class.

Cai, an assistant professor of communication studies from the Stark campus, has run the Kent State China Center in Beijing since it opened in March 2008. She also attends student recruitment fairs organized by the recruitment agencies in China.

At a recent fair, Cai said she spoke to more than 60 students and parents interested in studying abroad.

“By attending these expos, we can give KSU more name recognition, and we can introduce KSU to students and parents,” Cai said in e-mails from China. “If some of them are interested in us, students and parents will sign a contract so that recruiting agencies will assist with their application to KSU.”

Steve Michael, vice provost for diversity, said China became a focal point because of its emerging market, and President Lester Lefton and Provost Robert Frank realized Kent State had too few international students on campus.

They named their initiative China Vision, and Michael said he became its “author.”

“The two of them realized the need for Kent State to become more internationalized, and that basically means students have opportunities to interact with people from all over the world,” Michael said.

The Institute of International Education reports 81,127 Chinese students are studying at American colleges.

But the university makes out in the deal, too. Michael said the profits are financial and nonfinancial, but “with the cost involved, the returns on the investment are huge.”

Every 50 international students who study at Kent State add about $1 million in revenue, Michael said.

Perhaps more valuable, he said, is the diversity that comes from foreign students coming to the university.

“A university that is not preparing its students for the global market has failed already,” he said. “So whatever we’re doing, we must connect all our students to that world.”

Chinese students pay out-of-state tuition and usually live on campus, said Ted McKown, director of international student recruitment.

The 3-plus-2 program, designed so students can get a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years, is an incentive for many business majors to stay, said Hong Shan Li, a professor at Tuscarawas campus and one of the creators of the program.

“Driven by the financial condition in the nation and at our university, our business model has been ‘less money, more outcomes,’ compelling us to be creative, strategic, cost-effective and outcome-effective,” Cai said.

The 11-step China Vision initiative was designed to reap the most benefits for the university with the least amount of spending – like setting up a recruiting Web site and establishing relationships with Chinese institutions. Michael said strategic planning has helped the university accomplish its goals in China.

Four new Chinese students came to the university in Spring 2008, the semester the Beijing office began its operation. In Fall 2008, 45 new Chinese students enrolled at the university. This semester, one year after the Beijing office opened, 53 new Chinese students came to Kent State.

Debra Prvanovic, manager of International Student and Scholar Services, said there has been a “huge jump in Chinese enrollment due to increased recruiting.”

Michael said the university established the recruitment office in downtown Beijing rather than on the campus of a Chinese university so that Kent State would be an appealing partner to multiple Chinese universities.

“If you want to befriend 10 people, you don’t want to align yourself with just one,” Michael said. “You want to stay neutral.”

Michael said Kent State entered the Chinese market late compared to other Ohio universities. But he also said the first-year success of the Beijing office is “unprecedented.”

“There are many universities that have been in China for years without being able to demonstrate the results that we have,” Michael said. “This is one of the most successful operations that I have led for Kent State.”

Michael, who has accepted a position at Arcadia University, said he is confident the success of the Beijing office will continue after his departure this summer.

“It was difficult for me to say no to Arcadia given their huge investment in internationalization,” he said. “But part of my heart will always be with Kent State.”

Contact international affairs and Honors College reporter Alison Lucci at [email protected].