By MORGAN SOLOMON and KERRY BYRNES/Montana State News
Every year thousands of international students travel to the United States to seek higher education – and a growing number of these students are studying at Montana universities.
According to the Institute of International Education, the state of Montana saw a 21.5 percent increase in international student enrollment for the 2012-13 academic year, which is the largest increase for any state.
Norman Peterson, executive director of International Programs at Montana State University, believes this increase is due to initiatives at MSU-Billings.
“The fact that MSU-Billings has advertised for and accepted a great deal more international students (and that) has really driven the rise in international students coming to Montana,” Peterson said.
According to the Association of International Educators, MSU-Billings enrolled 152 international students for the 2012-13 academic year.
Peterson added that though the percentage of international students in Montana has increased, the state still has a relatively small international student population compared with other states.
“Montana did have a low base number of international students to start with,” Peterson said. “So any rise in the number of international students coming to Montana would have resulted in a high percentage increase.”
The Association of International Educators reported that 1,611 international students attended Montana universities during the 2012-13 academic year.
As more international students arrive in Montana, students are taking notice of the diversity on campus.
“When I am walking through campus, it’s not uncommon for me to hear at least two languages other than English being spoken,” said Lena Terry, a student at MSU.
Geraldine Govaerts, an international specialist at MSU, said that international student enrollment in Bozeman has increased by almost 30 percent, from 580 students to 750 students.
Peterson also believes that particular degree programs at MSU attract international more students.
“We offer degrees in business, engineering, and microbiology,” said Peterson, “three very popular majors in the international population who come to the U.S.”
Additionally, advertising and recruiting by Montana universities has increased due to the economic benefits that international students bring. The Association of International Educators reported that international students and their families made a net contribution of $42.1 million to the state in the 2012-2013 academic year.
“Although I don’t believe this to be the top reason for recruitment,” said Peterson, “it is a factor in the movement to bring more international students to Montana.”