In the fall semester of 2012, Missouri saw more than 16,000 international students enroll in universities across the state.
Missouri Department of Higher Education spokesperson Kathy Love says since 2009, international enrollment numbers have steadily increased in Missouri colleges and universities.
“The number has gone up dramatically,” Love said. “ In 2009, there were 11,285 international students here. That jumped to 16,061 for 2012.”
Love says these numbers continue to grow because Missouri has become an “attractive option” for students from all countries.
“Back in 2010, we did a little survey of the international students here. We asked them to name the top five reasons why they wanted to study in Missouri, and they named excellent academic programs, friendly atmosphere on campuses, safe environment, and low cost of living, that campuses were spacious and diverse,” Love said.
Zahir Ahmed is the Executive Director for Southeast Missouri State University’s International Education Services.
Like the Missouri Department of Higher education, Ahmed says Southeast has also experienced a continuous growth in international student enrollment. From 2011, the university’s international enrollment increased over 8%.
This semester, Ahmed says Southeast saw 830 international students enroll: over 7% of the university’s total enrollment.
Now, Ahmed says the university isn’t looking to expand, but to diversify.
“From 2008, the [international] population was way low, with only two percent or three percent. In order to get it up, you tended to go initially for countries that would send you the most students,” Ahmed said. “Now that we are at that level where we want to be, what we are trying to do now is to get one, better quality students, and two, more diverse students. ”
Ahmed says the university appeals to many international students because of the small-town atmosphere.
“On our campus, safety is a big issue. We are one of the safest campuses anywhere and parents who used to tend to send students to big cities or big universities suddenly recognize that big cities come with maybe more crime, maybe more distractions,” Ahmed said.
The Missouri Department of Education estimates the majority of the state’s international students come from China, a number also reflected by Southeast’s enrollment.