Iranian students seeking entry to colleges in the United States used to have a saying, "Woodbury-Zudburi," which translates roughly as "Woodbury is easy to get into."
Woodbury University in Los Angeles has 400 Iranians among its enrollment of 1,400 students, probably the highest proportion in the country, according to its admissions dean, William Nugent. "We are a little concerned about the possible imbalance," he said.
Nugent said Woodbury has never actively recruited students in Iran. But some international academic experts say the "greed" of American schools looking for cash customers in an era of declining enrollment has been a factor in the explosive growth of the Iranian student poplation in the United States over the past few years.
At times the scramble for Ranian students was scandalous, according to some scholars. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials and some financially pressed colleges were caught sending sheafs of bank, signed I-20 forms to recruiters in Iran. These forms, which open the way to U.S. ientry, are supposed to be given to individual students only after they are accepted at school.
The would-be students scrambled, too. Don Lenfest, director of the English language program at Ohio Wesleyan University, said he heard of some Iranian students paying $1,500 to recruiters for help in finding a school.
The foreign student enrollment at U.S. colleges has doubled to 264,000 in the last 10 years, according to figures complied by the Institute of International Education in New York. Within that total, the number of Iranians has jumped from less than 5,000 to more than 50,000 in the same period.
While all the oil-producing countries have sent increasing numbers of students abroad to be educated since the spiral of oil prices began in 1973, Iran has been in a class by itself. Iran has nearly four times as many students here as Taiwan, which ranks second with 14,000.
Richard Beendzen, incoming president of American University, which has 350 Iranians, said he finds it ironic that college-age students from the "baby boom" the shah encouraged years ago contributed to his downfall. Some of the same students who marched in the streets here shouting "death to the shah" were sent here either on his government's scholarships or by families who often were part of his governing elite.
Fred Lockyear, who has visited Iran several times in the past two years, to study student counseling, noted in a recent phone interview that the number of students eligible for college in Iran leaped from 100,000 to 575,000 between 1974 and 1979. Expansion of the Iranian university system did not keep pace. Some experts thinks the shah feared the campuses would be training grounds for radicals.
Instead, many of the students came to the United States. Some were on scholarships from the military forces, others paid by the Pahlavi Foundation in New York, and still more were financed by such Iranian government ministries as science and exonomics.
Dr. Mansour Farhan, cultural attache at the Iranian embassy here, said in a recent phone interview that about 3,000 college students are in this country on some form of government financial aid. He said his office was reviewing each student's file to see that "deserving" students could keep their aid.
Farhang rejected the explanation that many of the students come to this country to fulfill the shah's desire to educate enough technicians to run the government.
"That's a misconception and another of the vicious lies of the shah," he said. "He let them come out simply to keep them from causing trouble in Iran."
The shah did, however, make schooling mandatory through the eighth grade, and offered free college for those who would commit themselves to government service after completing their education, according to other officials.
Rep. John Murphy (D-N.Y.), who met the shah in 1949 while attending West Point and later was a director of the Pahlavi Foundation, said recently that the Iranian government always had trouble bringing the scholarship students home for government service. "They didn't want to return for their military requirement," he said.
More than a year ago, the race among young Iranians to get into a U.S. college was accelerated by a new factor, the growning unrest in Iran. "Parents saw the handwriting on the wall and were trying to get their kids out," said Ohio Wesleyan's Lenfest. "We had the sons and daughters of Iranian military generals applying for admission."
Evidently this year's revolution has not ended the race. According to a student expert who returned from Tehran just before the Nov. 4 takeover of the American embassy, there was a backlog of 20,000 Iranians seeking some form of U.S. visa. About 300 a day were being processed, half of them, students, he said.
Some international refugee groups have expressed concern about the fate of Iranians -- visitors as well as students -- who now are being forced to return to Iran in a reversal of previous U.S. policy.
Originally, because of the unsettled conditions in Iran, the U.S. government had announced that short-term visa holders wouldn't have to depart until next June. But that policy was canceled 10 days ago as part of the Carter administration's response to the crisis at the embassy.
An INS spokesman said yesterday that in the first five days of checking, 5,200 of 6,700 Iranian students interviewed had valid visas. About 760 needed further checking, and 700 were found in violation and are thus deportable.
Of those facing deportation, 92 have elected to leave the country voluntarily, without the lengthy deportation procedure, the spokesman said. About 200 of the 6,700 interviewed have requested political asylum.