December 3, 2013

International Student Enrollment Soars at Cornell

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Nearly 150 years ago, Cornell welcomed its first five international students. Now, students from abroad represent almost 20 percent of the student body — and, year by year, are coming from more countries around the world, University administrators say.

The growth in the University’s international student population mirrors a nationwide trend, with U.S. institutions reporting that the number of international students enrolling for the first time increased 9.8 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to the Institute of International Education. At Cornell, international students’ representation in the student body grew from 15.9 percent to 19.1 percent between 2003 and 2012, according to the International Students and Scholars Office.

The development is a welcome one, administrators say, emphasizing that international students are playing a significant role on campus.

“I think international students have always made a great contribution to Cornell, and I think it’s really important that Cornell has a network of alumni who are well-placed in foreign countries who are helping spread the word about Cornell and encouraging other talented students to come to Cornell,” ISSO Director Brendan O’Brien said.

Citing increasing interconnectedness around the world, O’Brien said the University will likely continue seeing more international students come to Ithaca.

“I think the world is becoming more interdependent and there are now more qualified students who are interested in pursuing a Cornell degree,” O’Brien said.

Part of the draw of Cornell to potential students, O’Brien said, likely lies in “the fact that Cornell has such a excellent reputation internationally.”

“The name recognition is very good. We have outstanding programs in just about everything –– a wide variety of courses of study that international students can pursue,” he said.

International students — bringing unique experiences to campus — positively shape the Cornell experience for their peers, O’Brien said. They not only offer peers a chance to interact with people from different cultures but also strengthen the University’s academics, he added.

“I think international students make great contributions both in and outside the classroom,” O’Brien said. “They have very strong academic backgrounds and make a great contribution to all of our research endeavors.”

The presence of international students on campus also benefits students from the U.S. at a time when more and more companies are asking employees bring global perspectives into boardrooms.

“As globalization continues, our domestic students have to be able to work with people from all over the world,” O’Brien said. “The marketplace is becoming a lot more globalized. I think that students having a chance to have friends and colleagues from all over the world and to hear their perspectives is very, very valuable.”

Enrico Bonatti ’14, international liaison at-large for the Student Assembly, echoed O’Brien’s sentiment, saying international students bring valuable perspectives to the University.

“Aside from allowing U.S. students to learn about different cultures, [international students] bring new and unique points of view to classes and discussions,” said Bonatti, who is also president of the International Students Board.

In return, many international students coming to Cornell find they are able to access academic opportunities they might not have had at home.

“A lot of international students apply to Cornell due to its high quality of instruction and academic opportunities,” Bonatti said. “The ‘Cornell brand’ is particularly strong in Asia, where most international undergraduate students come from.”

Even with the international student population growing year by year, Bonatti said he feels that the University could improve its accommodations for international students.

“There is an understanding [among international students] that current international spaces and resources –– the ISSO Administrative Center, the Holland International Living Center –– are not sufficient, mostly in relation to space. [According to] a survey, most international students feel the need for a meeting space [or] resource center for international students,” he said.

Recognizing the challenges some international students face coming to Ithaca, Fredrik Logevall, Vice Provost for International Affairs at the University, said that Cornell remains “committed to being an exemplary transnational university.”

“That includes recruiting the best students and researchers from all around the world and working to ensure that we have abundant academic and social interactions between our international and domestic and student populations,” he said.