Over the past five years a dozen U.S. universities increased their international enrollment by more than 40 percent, the Associated Press reports, and half of those schools are in the Big Ten Conference.
Although the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was not in that group, the University of Nebraska as a whole has commendably made a strategic decision to bolster its number of international students and to encourage study abroad by U.S. students attending NU institutions.
This move makes sense in two important ways. First, it boosts students’ awareness of the growing connections among countries. Second, it brings in much-needed revenue increases for NU from full-tuition-paying students from abroad.
This fall, NU’s international student enrollment totals 3,475, a 10 percent increase over last year. NU is aiming to raise its international student enrollment to more than 6,000 by 2020.
Already, UNL hosts more than 1,300 international students from over 100 countries, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha has more than 1,700 international students from 131 countries.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney may be the smallest of the NU campuses, but it has an impressive tradition of international outreach. Students from more than 50 countries attend UNK, the school hosts an annual international conference as well as annual cultural festivals connected to foreign cultures, and UNK has its own website in the Korean language to foster connections with South Korea.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center and UNL both have burgeoning relationships with China, and one of the themes emphasized by the University of Nebraska Foundation’s current $1.2 billion fundraising campaign is “global engagement.” Part of the foundation’s effort is covering the cost of foreign travel by UNL students and faculty.
NU President J.B. Milliken has put it well: “It is critical that our students see themselves as part of a larger world — and that they experience different cultures and expand their educational horizons to prepare for a global economy. For Nebraska to succeed in the future, we must develop graduates who understand the world in which they live and work.
“Our nation’s challenges and their solutions are increasingly global. Our businesses, including those in Nebraska, are increasingly international, and students with international experience will find their academic experience enriched and their employment prospects enhanced.”
The student figures cited above are from the Institute of International Education. Thomas Farrell, NU’s top official overseeing global engagement, previously worked for 14 years at the institute. He also worked for the U.S. State Department.
In recent years NU has raised its international profile dramatically by annually hosting well-attended water-policy conferences that have drawn experts from around the globe. NU seems likely to gain increased attention globally as it pursues specializations that build on its strengths (food, water and fuel; early childhood development; rural development).
An understanding of Nebraska’s connections to the world is crucial these days, and the state’s public university system can be a key player in furthering that appreciation. In pursuing that mission, NU is making wise choices.