Graduate Student Enrollment Driving Increases in International Ranks
Four employees of the Rwandan National Police College in Musanze Province, Rwanda, who began their graduate studies at Kent State University in August, represent the driving force behind increases in both graduate and international student enrollment for the 2023 Fall Semester.
The number of international students on the Kent Campus this semester increased by 447 students or 27.47%, from 1,627 in fall 2022, to 2,074 this term. Within that number, however, is an increase of 429 international graduate students who are driving the overall spike.
That same group is having a similar impact on Kent State’s overall number of graduate students, which this year rose to 5,620 from 5,433. The 429 new international graduate students helped to push the total number of graduate students up by 3.44% over 2022.
Salma Benhaida, director of international admissions and sponsored student services in global education, said some of the increase is due to continued post-pandemic recovery with more international students feeling comfortable about resuming their plans to study abroad. Student visas are being issued now at a higher rate for some countries, which also is helping.
This is the fourth year in a row that Kent State has seen an increase in the overall number of international students. In addition to Rwanda, Kent State is welcoming increasing numbers of students from Nigeria, Ghana and Bangladesh, Benhaida said. International students from 102 countries are at Kent State this fall.
“We are seeing some uptick in interest and applications and enrollment from some new emerging markets, in addition to India’s graduate market bouncing back, especially in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] fields,” she said.
Mandy Munro-Stasiuk, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has worked closely with the students from the Rwandan police college
and said she expects the relationship will result in even more students in the coming years.
“I think that we're probably going to get more graduate students, in particular, from other entities in Rwanda as well,” she said.
The current group, while small, is dedicated and committed to succeed, Munro-Stasiuk said.
One of the Rwandan graduate students, Didier Mazimpaka, works in the police college’s academic program office and is seeking a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, so that he may return home with the goal of teaching English courses to students in the college.
A native of Kamanyi, Rwanda, the 27-year-old Mazimpaka said he is getting used to life in Ohio, and appreciates the organization and security of Kent State, as he pursues a full schedule of courses.
“I like the way the departments work together,” he said.
Kent State's Office of Global Education has representatives in a variety of markets, including Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, and Kent State has established partnerships with universities across the globe, including a new relationship with the University of Rwanda in Kigali, which helped to draw this year’s students from the police college.
“Africa is kind of that next frontier for international education, given the population, but also its economy is getting stronger,” Benhaida said.
Jordan, Cambodia and Egypt are countries where Kent State is forging new partnerships, she said, in addition to strengthening and expanding existing partnerships in countries such as Brazil.
Program offerings also play a leading role in luring international students, particularly graduate students.
Manfred van Dulmen, Ph.D., Kent State’s senior associate provost and dean of Graduate College, said two new academic programs – master’s degrees in data science and business analytics – have helped to drive graduate student enrollment overall.
“These new degree programs are really of interest to international students,” he said.
Research for the new data science program began more than five years ago and van Dulmen said he anticipated the degree would be popular.
When creating new degree programs, the university follows research from job data, national trends, and external consultants to determine what emerging fields are as well as the interests of faculty and in what directions they want to see their departments move.
“So, the new programs are data-informed; we look at what skills students will need in the future,” he said.
The business analytics degree is offered at the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship, while the data science master’s is offered jointly through the Department of Mathematical Sciences and the Department of Computer Science, both in the College of Arts and Sciences. The two colleges also saw the largest increases in their number of graduate students this year.
A master’s degree holds excellent value, van Dulmen said, and it is up to the university to ensure that students realize that by offering compelling data.
“In an area like data science and data analytics, for further developing professional skills, it’s a much easier sell, and there are big opportunities with other similar master's programs like emerging media and technology.”
Benhaida noted that many international students see greater value in studying abroad for an advanced degree than a bachelor’s degree.
“Students really value a master’s degree because it’s a relatively low investment in time and money,” she said. “Students really value that return on investment as opposed to an undergraduate degree that is four years.”
In addition, international graduate students upon graduation can apply for a one-year extension of their visas to work for a U.S. company for a year of optional practical training or OPT, while STEM students can stay for up to three years of OPT, Benhaida noted.
“So, they are getting really great practical experience in industry, and they are able to go back home and bring that knowledge after their OPT or sometimes they have opportunities to stay in the U.S. and to continue to work for those employers,” she said.
Van Dulmen said it is important for students to understand that Kent State is setting them up for success and graduate programs are tailored so that students have a powerful sense of belonging and know that they can be successful from start to finish.
Jean Baptiste Bikorimana, also one of the Rwandan police college students, is pursuing an advanced degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, said he felt the support upon arriving on campus. The group’s arrival was delayed a few days due to a lag in the time it took their visas to process.
“We came a bit late, but we found people very helpful, especially at the Graduate College office,” he said.
Bikorimana hopes to earn an advanced degree to improve his knowledge in conflict analysis and management so that he can go back and share it with students at the police college, where he is a teacher and trainer.
Bikorimana, 47, said his daughter at home already is dreaming of attending Kent State one day.
Benhaida said that kind of excitement shared among students with their families and friends is one of the keys to Kent State’s success in international recruiting.
“Students are really our best recruiters because they go and share their stories with their friends, with their families, and then more are interested in coming here,” she said.