VOL. 11 | NO. 2 | Saturday, January 13, 2018
By Don Wade
Jasbir Dhaliwal wears many titles – and carries many responsibilities – at the University of Memphis. He is vice provost of academic affairs and dean of the graduate school. He is chief innovation officer and the executive director of the FedEx Institute of Technology.
In all those capacities, he appreciates the value of the university attracting more international students. And the necessity.
“The largest high school class, historically, has now passed through the age they go to college,” Dhaliwal said. “So the next 10 years, even 20 years, the challenge for universities is to keep enrollment at the same level. The question is how do we fill that gap? So it’s a demographic issue and everyone is looking at how we approach that.”
Richard Dalton, left, a professor in the Intensive English for Internationals department at the University of Memphis, teaches Grammar 6 to Yuan Gao, far left, and Ana Barreto De Barros. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)
Getting more international students is a way to bridge the gap and bring more tuition-paying students to the university.
“First, it solves the enrollment pressure,” he said. “Secondly, it’s a form of an export. Someone comes, stays here, pays tuition. … Australia, Canada and England have always been very proactive. They have done tremendously well, while we in the U.S. have been a little bit less aggressive.”
Only 616 of the U of M’s approximately 21,000 students are international, and the majority of them are graduate students. The recruiting emphasis, Dhaliwal says, is on international undergraduates. They now number less than 130 at the university.
“If we want to be a serious destination school for talent, both nationally and internationally, we need to do more to attract that talent to the university,” Dhaliwal said. “We have less than half the international students that (the University of Tennessee) Knoxville has, about half the international students as some other public schools across the state.
“The University of Cincinnati, for example, now has 3,500 international students. It’s a $39 billion market nationally. Everybody’s eating away at it.”
On the local level, the financial impact of international students at the U of M totaled some $23.7 million and supported 343 jobs during the 2016-17 academic year, according to the latest data from NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
The financial impact figure includes tuition, housing, dining and retail spending, transportation, telecommunications and health insurance.
Plus, recent economic studies indicate that if people study here and go back to their country, they spread the word.
“They are champions of where they got their education,” Dhaliwal said. “So chances are if they want do business (in the U.S.), they’ll come here.”
Richard Dalton, left, teaches English grammar to Fenglin Han, center, and Yuan Gao in Grammar 6, a course in the University of Memphis’ Intensive English for Internationals department. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)
About a year ago, the U of M set up the Center for International Education Services to recruit international students and help them once they get on campus. The university is working with recruitment agencies in 30 different markets.
On campus, the goal is to pair international students with American students to help them get acclimated. Molly Stout, who is originally from Parsons, Tennessee (population 2,357), is in the program and paired with a student from Madrid, Spain.
His English is pretty good, she says, and many international students do well in the university setting. She says some students may initially need more help, adding, “Especially Japanese students because they come from a completely different culture.”
Others manage well when speaking with professors or other students, but might need some assistance in other areas.
“We try to accompany them if they’re doing something legal, like getting their driver’s license,” Stout said.
Stout previously studied abroad in Italy, but Dhaliwal says that’s an opportunity not available to many Memphis students.
“By and large, we serve not such a rich community and our students are already so much in debt, they don’t have funds to go abroad and have global experience,” he said, adding that if the university can instead attract international students, and they’ll pay to come here, “it solves something.”
In this competitive market for colleges and universities, rankings matter, too. And schools with a higher percentage of international students receiver better rankings and are viewed in a more prestigious light.
“Even midlevel universities in China recruit international students,” Dhaliwal said.
He says the U of M previously did not spend much time considering how international students impact its rankings, but that’s changing – as is the school’s overall recruitment efforts.
“We have a very good spread, over 50 countries,” he said of the international students coming to Memphis. “But we haven’t systematically attacked it as an economic market” until now.
“Historically, the international student has found Memphis and not the other way around. FedEx attracts talent from all over the world. International Paper, FedEx, AutoZone, all global and looking for talent. So they are telling us get the best and brightest.
“For our growth, this is a very important issue.”