A Tale of Two Colleges

Missouri State U. and Westminster College have taken different routes to increasing their international enrollments.
September 30, 2011

It’s about a three-hour drive from Missouri State University to Westminster College. The former is in the Ozarks; the latter is between Kansas City and St. Louis. Neither institution is an obvious international destination. As Jim Baker, the vice president for research and economic development and international programs at Missouri State, put it, "When I go to China and say, 'Do you know where Missouri is?' they have no idea, so I have to point to the middle of the country and say, 'It’s right here.' "

Even so, both institutions have dramatically increased their international student enrollments -- by very different means. At a time when more and more colleges and universities, big and small, public and private, are seeking more international students, the two colleges illustrate the kinds of choices involved.

Missouri State’s international programs are entrepreneurial and revenue-generating, the growth in foreign enrollment concentrated according to country (China) and discipline (business). Its branch in Dalian, in Northeast China, pumps junior transfers into its business school in Springfield, and an executive M.B.A. program specifically targets Chinese students. As the number of Chinese students on the Springfield campus has grown – from 31 in 2004 to 701 this fall – so have revenues. Gross tuition revenue from Chinese students will exceed $7 million this year, including $1.3 million generated by the executive M.B.A. program alone.

By contrast, Westminster has leveraged private philanthropy – building a partnership with the Davis United World College Scholars Program -- to grow its international student population from 3 percent a decade ago to 15.9 percent today. Whereas many colleges have expanded their international student populations by recruiting full fee-paying students from China and India, Westminster’s students come from 66 different countries, and the overwhelming majority receive need-based aid. "We’ve used the Davis program to transform the campus," said Westminster’s president, George B. Forsythe.

"We wanted to create an international community on our campus here in the heartland."

Missouri State in China

Missouri State opened its branch campus in Dalian in 2000 in partnership with Liaoning Normal University. The China campus offers an associate degree in business, awarded by Missouri State’s two-year campus at West Plains, as well as a bachelor's degree completion program, offered by the Springfield campus. The former is taught in a traditional format – on-site, by faculty hired by West Plains -- while the latter is taught by faculty at Missouri State’s Springfield campus in a hybrid format. (Professors typically travel to China for three weeks, then teach via distance education, with a graduate student on site as a facilitator.)

Enrollment at the Dalian campus has grown to about 700 students this fall, about 10 percent of whom are not from China. Of the graduates of the associate degree program, 200 students are currently completing their bachelor’s degrees in Dalian, while 285 have transferred to the Springfield campus for their junior and senior years. "I don’t know that we ever thought we’d have those kinds of numbers showing up in Springfield," said Steve Robinette, Missouri State’s associate vice president for international programs. "But the Chinese make up about half our international students."

That’s about 54 percent this year – 701 of 1,296 total. "My goal is to have students from a lot more countries and to have more international students period; we just seem to be having a lot of success in China," said Baker, the vice president for international programs. "The steps that we took 12 years ago are paying off."

The partnership with Liaoning Normal is by far the biggest, but Missouri State also has a faculty and student exchange program with Qingdao University and research partnerships with three other universities in China. "If I were to go and set up a recruiting booth in Beijing, the students would opt for Harvard and names they recognize," said Baker. "So what we’ve done is build strong partners."

The other main source of Chinese students on campus is the executive M.B.A. program, which recently came under scrutiny in the Springfield News-Leader. An article questioned the financial relationship between Missouri State and its Hong Kong-based agent, alleging that students were paying double the amount that Missouri State was receiving.

The executive M.B.A. program only accepts cohorts of students who come through a sponsor: a provincial or municipal government agency, a university, or a corporation. Missouri State’s agent, the International Management Education Corporation, identifies and develops relationships with sponsors, who identify and prepare students, screening them for work experience, a minimum grade-point average at the undergraduate level (2.75) and English language proficiency. IMEC then "presents" Missouri State with a cohort of a minimum of 30 students, and the sponsors send Missouri State the students’ applications for review.

The fees students pay vary by sponsor and range from $15,000 to $22,000, according to Jerry Yang, IMEC’s managing director. Anywhere between four-fifths to half of that amount goes to Missouri State: IMEC is contracted to pay Missouri State $11,886 per student for the first 30 students enrolled, $10,697 for each of the next ten, and $10,103 for the next eight (cohorts are capped at 48 students).

In an e-mail interview, Yang justified the disparity by pointing out that “MSU does not spend on marketing/promotion/recruiting and the related overhead costs and does not risk resources up-front, both of which are very significant.” He added that the sponsors and IMEC incur additional costs “including but not limited to intensive English training, exams, advice on applications and documentations, visa application fees and service, orientations, etc." And Chinese university sponsors lose one year of tuition revenue when they send students to Missouri.

David Meinert, the associate dean for the College of Business Administration, said the relationship with IMEC has allowed Missouri State to quickly grow the executive M.B.A. program – without having to spend university resources recruiting and marketing overseas. The program has had 370 students since it started in 2007. "This grew much faster than anyone thought."

Terrel Gallaway, chair of the Faculty Senate and an associate professor of economics, said professors have periodically raised questions about the quality and oversight of the various China initiatives, and prepared a list of questions for the president in light of the News-Leader article. "We understand that these programs do a lot of good things, and that they serve a need both for the Chinese students and also brings some much-needed diversity and international exposure to our campus," he said. "But on the other hand there is a continuous push from faculty to protect quality and enhance transparency."

"I’m not trying to say that there are no problems or that there are problems, but I think the best way of looking at this is [the need for] oversight, and part of the picture here is money," Gallaway said. "Like universities all across the country, we’re always desperate for money, and when you’re desperate for money you have to redouble your efforts of oversight to make sure quality isn’t compromised."

Westminster and the World

Asked, "Why Westminster?" Estefanía Morera Mendez laughed. "That is a great question. Everyone asks me that."

Initially, she was undecided about college and was living at home in Palmares, Costa Rica. She considered the University of Costa Rica but was daunted by its massive size. Two of her friends were at Westminster – a small college of 1,102 students in Fulton, Missouri -- and they kept saying it would be the perfect place for her. She met Pat Kirby, Westminster’s recruiter, at her alma mater, the United World College high school in Costa Rica. And then she received a full scholarship to attend. "I said, 'O.K., let’s do it.' "

She is now a transnational studies major and president of the International Club, and indeed, Westminster is almost the perfect place -- as she said of Fulton, "It would be the perfect place to live if you owned a car."

Morera Mendez is one of 113 Davis United World College Scholars at Westminster this fall. Each is a graduate of one of 13 internationally-focused UWC high schools located worldwide (in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Costa Rica, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Swaziland, the United States, Venezuela and Wales).

All told, Westminster has 175 international students, from Afghanistan and Albania, Bhutan and Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Croatia – and 60 other countries. "The community in many ways is the curriculum," President Forsythe said. "We live it day by day."

The first of the Davis Scholars arrived at Westminster in fall 2002; since then, there have been 235. They’ve been the catalyst for change on a campus that before that had been very white and 97 percent domestic. The bulk of international students are coming with financial need. "The partnership with the Davis program has helped to make this financially viable for us," Forsythe said.

The Davis UWC Scholars program provides $20,000 in funding per scholarship recipient per year, in essence awarding a grant to Westminster to subsidize its aid packages. "Our underlying premise is not only to provide scholarship money for a greater number of non-American students to be on American campuses, but in addition, at places where there is leadership like at Westminster, to see a transformation take place on campus," said Philip Geier, the executive director of the Davis UWC Scholars program. "We’re a provocateur by design."

A Davis UWC Scholar can attend one of 91 partner institutions, but the foundation’s grant-making formula rewards colleges that attract larger clusters of students -- maximizing their impact on campus. Institutions with fewer than 40 Davis UWC scholars receive $10,000 in funding per student per year, whereas institutions with 40 or more scholars, like Westminster, receive $20,000. The expectation is that partner institutions will meet the remainder of each student’s need. At Westminster, for example, where tuition is $19,750 this year, and total cost of attendance $28,560, Morera Mendez said the Davis program covers the bulk of her full scholarship, and Westminster covers the rest – everything but books, taxes and personal expenses.

Geier described Westminster as one of the scholarship program's leading partner institutions, not only in terms of sheer number of students, but also in its programmatic commitment to "making the most educational value out of their international students." Westminster, for example, has a "Take a Friend Home" program, which provides funding for an international student to bring a U.S. student home over the summer, and for the U.S. student to reciprocate at winter break.

"We’re quite different in design and in intent than the phenomenon that you see more broadly now -- the increase in international students who have the capacity to pay -- which is being greatly embraced in these tough economic times by American colleges and universities," Geier said. "We represent a philanthropic incentive to programmatically engage with the world."


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