The University of Minnesota hopes to bring in enough international students to make up 5 percent of its undergraduate class.
The University of Minnesota is reaching around the world for its undergraduates, even as Minnesotans are finding it harder to gain admission.
Some parents worry that by accepting more international students, the U is excluding its own. The admissions office says that is not true and even though more foreign students are being admitted, more Minnesotans are, too.
"The point is, increasing the number of our international undergraduates is not going to displace Minnesotans," said Meredith McQuaid, associate vice president and dean of the Office of International Programs. "It's going to change the mix of students that Minnesotans go to school with."
The U is one of an increasing number of U.S. universities that are scouring the globe and competing for international students. The number of international students on U.S. campuses is at an all-time high, according to a recent report by the Institute of International Education.
A 2006 internal report showed the University of Minnesota had the smallest percentage of international undergraduates of any university in the Big Ten: 2 percent.
Several state schools, such as St. Cloud State and Winona State, had at least double that.
The university is working to double its percentage of international students, hoping those students will bring diversity to campus and help the U gain global prominence. It now sends e-mail to promising high school students in dozens of countries, and staff and alumni travel to meet the students and encourage them to choose the U.
The efforts appear to be working. Applications from international students increased five-fold between 2000 and 2008, primarily from China, South Korea and India. Only nine Chinese students applied to the U for fall 2000. For this fall, 592 did.
The acceptance rate for Minnesota students at the U dropped about 15 percent over the same period. But the actual number of Minnesotans accepted at the U actually grew -- from 6,458 to 7,818. The number of students applying rose at a faster rate than the number accepted, which explains the percentage decline.
Who's first in line?
Growing up in Lewiston, Minn., Elizabeth Doberstein dreamed of the U's Twin Cities campus: "I was sure that's where I needed to go. It just felt right."
So she applied early, and when she spotted the U's return address on a letter she received in November, she gave a shout. But it was bad news: She's on the waiting list.
Her father, Jeff Doberstein, suspects that she -- a smart, middle-class Minnesotan -- was passed over for a Chinese or Indian student who will pay out-of-state tuition. "Our American children should be first in line," he said.
They are, said Wayne Sigler, the university's director of admissions. "We have a guideline in our office that Minnesota's first and foremost."
Yes, the university hopes to double the number of international students in its undergraduate programs -- from about 2.5 percent to 5 percent. But that's a very small part of the undergraduate class, he said. This fall, about 5.5 percent of freshman were international -- 279 students out of 5,106. Minnesotans made up 64.8 percent of the freshmen.
The U's freshman class has been growing. Next fall, the goal is 5,350 students; that's 150 more than last year's target.
If a Minnesota applicant and a South Korean applicant are of the same caliber, the U will choose the Minnesotan, Sigler said.
The entire student body -- especially the half that does not study abroad -- will benefit from studying alongside more international students, McQuaid said. "It's hard now for people to graduate without having an international experience and still get those really important positions," she said. "And you can have an international experience right here at home."
Her office now travels the world, trying to select the best. In China, it relies on a vast network of alumni, who give testimonials at gatherings. In India, it takes part in multi-city tours with a number of other universities that advertise their arrival in high schools. In Norway, it regularly contacts high schools it knows graduate competitive students.
Adjusting to 'Minne-snow-ta'
In 2007, Tianlin Shi came to the University of Minnesota from China -- in part because the U went all the way to her.
As a high school student in Suzhou, Shi and her mom made the 45-minute drive to Shanghai, where the U held an afternoon session in a hotel meeting room. A group of 10 people -- two of them Chinese-speaking instructors -- gave a Powerpoint presentation, handed out brochures, played get-to-know-you games and answered questions.
"I could tell that the people speaking Chinese didn't want us to pay attention to the weather part," said Shi, who goes by Stella. "But the staff were honest: It's very cold. It snows a lot. That gave me a good impression of them."
An acceptance letter and a scholarship offer later, she was a Carlson School of Management student.
The U created a task force on "forging an international university" in 2005. After seeing how comparatively low the U's percentage of international undergraduates was, the group recommended more recruitment, better connections with alumni abroad and financial assistance.
Now, the U offers Global Excellence Scholarships, some worth the difference between in-state and non-resident tuition (about $5,800 this year), others worth half that.
More and more, the university uses the Internet to connect with students abroad -- including a blog written by a team of international students. An entry titled "tips for winter clothing" follows "Tips on Minnesota winter." The blog has recorded about 2,300 site visits since March 2008.
Asa Widiastomo's entries detail her adjustment to "Minne-snow-ta" after living most of her 20 years in Indonesia. She chose the University of Minnesota when she learned that at her other choice -- a school in West Virginia -- she would be "the only Muslim with a head scarf."
Here, "I love it because it's so diverse," she said. "It's really big in the beginning, but that gave me my choice to find my own place."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168