George Mason University seeks more foreign students

February 26

George Mason University, the largest public university in Virginia, aims to grow its international student enrollment by 50 percent in five years through a joint venture with an overseas recruiting firm announced Wednesday.

The plan to add about 1,000 foreign students to a university that now has nearly 2,000 is likely to help Mason financially because out-of-state students pay far higher tuition than Virginians.

Mason officials say they will expand campus housing to accommodate the growth, and the plan should not reduce the number of in-state seats at the university. In fall 2013, Mason had 33,917 graduate and undergraduate students, 80 percent of them from Virginia.

“International students bring with them varied perspectives, cultural diversity and opportunities for global learning and connectedness,” Mason President Angel Cabrera, who is a native of Spain, said in a statement. “The program will increase teaching and research opportunities for faculty, boost economic activity and add international perspectives in Fairfax and across Virginia. It will also enrich learning experiences for domestic students and create a wider, global alumni network.”

Many universities are hunting for students from around the world in an effort to globalize their campuses and raise revenue.

To ramp up international enrollment, Mason entered into an agreement with a company based in the United Kingdom called INTO University Partnerships. INTO, with a global network of recruiters, will help Mason find international applicants in return for a share of tuition revenue from those who matriculate. INTO, according to the Mason statement, also works with Oregon State, Colorado State and Marshall universities as well as the University of South Florida.

The students could enter Mason through direct admission. Those who need help in English and other subjects could be admitted first into special preparatory courses before moving into regular degree programs.

Mason Provost Peter N. Stearns said the initiative could raise $30 million in additional revenue for the university over five years, a sign of the value of out-of-state students to the institution’s bottom line. Undergraduate tuition and fees this school year for Virginians total $9,908. For out-of-state students, the charge is $28,592.

INTO’s share of tuition from full undergraduate students who enroll via the program would be 6 percent, Stearns said.

Stearns said the university will retain full control of admissions standards. But he said Mason needs help finding prospective international students. INTO, he said, has extensive contacts in Europe and Asia and is growing its presence in Africa and Latin America. “They have agents on the spot,” Stearns said. “It’s a network we simply can’t develop.”

Federal data show that about 4 percent of Mason’s undergraduate students are foreigners in the country on a temporary basis, a lower share than is found at many other universities. The share is 6 percent at the University of Virginia, 7 percent at American University, 8 percent at George Washington University and 11 percent at Georgetown University.

Stearns predicted that the initiative eventually could raise the international share of Mason undergraduates to 10 percent.

Housing is a perennial issue at Mason. Stearns said about 6,200 students live on the Fairfax campus. By next fall, he said, there will be nearly 7,000 beds in campus facilities after the university opens a new residence hall and converts the Mason Inn to a dormitory.

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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