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PA Higher Education Goes Global

Duquesne University is on a mission. Founded by the Spiritans, a Catholic missionary order, Duquesne was started as a school for children of the immigrant poor coming to Pittsburgh for work in steel and other manufacturing industries. When the school opened in 1878, the founders wrote a mission statement that promised, among other things, “an ecumenical atmosphere open to diversity, through service to the Church, the community, the nation, and the world.” To this day, they have a full-time Mission and Identity vice president that makes sure that mission is always followed.

So when the office for International Students conducted a study three years ago and found that the population of international students at Duquesne had become static, director of International Student Programs Joe DeCrosta looked to the mission and knew what he had to do. His office partnered with the American International Recruitment Council to improve their outreach to international communities, targeting specific regions of the Far East, South America and India. Just two years into their new recruitment strategy, Duquesne has recorded their highest-ever concentration of international students

“The Spiritans who started the university went out into the world to regions like Africa and the Caribbean to serve certain communities,” DeCrosta says. “As this was their only university in the world, they placed that background here at the university as well. This office has been here for 25 years and while we may change our focus every year, the fundamental understanding in a need for diversity, and particularly international diversity, remains important here.”

But the Spiritans aren’t the only ones valuing a more global education. A recent survey of international student populations, conducted by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, discovered international enrollment is at an all-time high for Pennsylvania universities, with Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon topping the list. Educators at public and private colleges across the state have placed increased focus on international recruitment and student services in an effort to accommodate a U.S. international student population that has grown every year since 2001. In 2009, international enrollment hit an all-time high as 3.7 percent of all U.S. students were from outside the U.S.

“We are living in an increasingly interconnected world,” says CMU Office of International Education Director Linda Gentile. “We are in Western Pennsylvania. If we only attracted students from Western Pennsylvania, it would hamper our students’ ability to grow and expand outside what is normal for them. That variety helps everyone, both the international students and the local students, learn and grow from each other.”

Enticing international students can be challenging, sending recruiters to the ends of the Earth, creating a network of educators and creating name recognition in other parts of the world. Through his work with AIRC, DeCrosta’s office began recruiting in rural areas not often utilized by traditional college recruiters.  They targeted an Indian suburb densely populated with upscale private schools, whose students were well educated, came from financially stable families and, through widespread internet access, were exposed to and interested in the American market.

“As opposed to going to Mumbai and Delhi, we found these students looking to study abroad and no one is talking to them,” says DeCrosta.

The internet has helped many universities reach a more global audience, as access has spread to the farthest corners of the globe. At Penn State University’s office of Global Programs, Global Relations Director Negar Davis has focused much of her office’s resources on streamlining the online experience for international students. A year ago, Penn State announced a new strategic plan that called for a restructuring of global programming to increase social media and collaboration with global students. PSU launched the Global Engagement Network to share research and create a more worldly research community. 

“Today’s international students are a lot more informed and educated about universities because of increased access to technology,” Davis says. “We have focused a lot of our resources on presenting our online information. We try to give as detailed information as possible so that students who have not had the opportunity to travel to the U.S. before they select a university can get a feel for what they should expect.”

Carnegie Mellon’s international population also hit an all-time-high this year. With 10 satellite campuses on four continents, CMU’s name recognition has grown exponentially in the last 10 years as 2,400 of its 11,000 students for the 2009-10 academic year hail from outside the U.S. The university has created educational partnerships in industrial and business hubs like India and South Korea, and their new campus in Qatar just graduated its first class this year.

“We are increasingly a global university so I think that is attractive to people,” says Gentile. “We have campuses in various locations around the world and we have a varied and diverse faculty so students often come here because they know they will receive a world-class education here.”

Building a worldwide presence has helped universities like Penn State and CMU place emphasis on easing the transition for students once they arrive on campus. Managing visas, work permits, drivers licensing and helping students get acclimated and involved in student life are not easy tasks. But by creating a welcoming environment, international liaisons can ensure that students can live, work, learn and eventually stay in Pennsylvania.

“In the U.S., students are allowed to stay and get hands-on training for one year but the process of staying and getting work in companies here is very challenging,” says Davis. “But PA’s economic development has been instrumental in reaching out to companies who embrace diversity, making the state distinct in that regard. And when you help these students and they are able to learn and to work here, you create that global recognition as people tell their families and friends.”

John Steele is a freelance writer and blogger in Philadelphia. He enjoys music snobbery, trash television and laughing at hipsters. Send feedback here.

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Zhuang Rui Tan (aka "Ricky"). Tan is a graduating senior at Carnegie Mellon who majored in mechanical engineering. He is Malaysian and has lived in China, Singapore and the U.K. His portrait was taken in the mechanical engineering machine shop. After graduating this weekend, Ricky will be moving to Brooklyn to complete a summer internship and apply to graduate school. He said that he would consider moving back to Pittsburgh if he could get a job for Westinghouse.

Karen Yu. Karen is a sophomore civil engineering major at Carnegie Mellon. She is a Canadian of Chinese descent who grew up in Vancouver, B.C. She will be staying in Pittsburgh this summer.

All Photographs by Heather Mull

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