Weather Forecast



Dakota Wesleyan University recently opened an international recruitment office in Nigeria, Africa. Image: Courtesy of Dakota Wesleyan University

Expanding Culture and Economy: What colleges and universities are doing to attract more international students

A South Dakota-based university is expanding its footprint with its first international recruitment office in Africa, and by so doing hopes not only to enhance the cultural diversity of the campus and increase student population, but to strengthen the workforce of the upper Midwest and the region’s economy.

Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., through a partnership with university alum and former board of trustee member Dr. John Ifediora, opened a recruitment office on Nov. 5 in Abuja, Nigeria.

“Dr. Ifediora has provided invaluable connections to the Nigerian private high schools, government schools and offices as we look to expand our international recruitment efforts for the fall of 2020,” DWU President Amy Novak said in a statement.

Ifediora, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin System and currently on the faculty of economics at American University in Washington, D.C., is receiving help from two other university staff members, Godwin Kingsley and Honey-Ann Ndubuisi.  

“In our exploration of the project, Dr. Ifediora said that parents of prospective students would like the idea of a rural location and would be looking for a place where their students can study in a safe and distraction-free place. Isn’t that interesting that he referred to this area as distraction-free?” Fredel Thomas, DWU vice president of admissions and marketing, told Prairie Business. “It is my understanding that some of the distraction he is referring to has to do with the activity of Boko Haram in Nigeria.” (Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group, whose name, interestingly, means “Western education is forbidden,” according to a report by CNN.) 

She said Nigeria is not the only location the school will expand its footprint. It also is looking to open another recruitment office in Nairobi, Kenya.

“I think many universities are searching for pipelines of students that will enhance the cultural diversity of their campuses as well as grow their traditional student population,” Thomas said, noting, however, that “opening a recruitment office isn’t something easy to do without the right connections and people to make it happen.”

What the numbers say

While not every college or university has recruitment offices in other countries – most do not – the schools in the Upper Midwest that Prairie Business reached out to say they make concerted efforts to attract students from foriegn lands. The economic impact seems to tell one reason. 

Overall in the U.S., the number of international students reached an all-time high during the 2018-19 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education. Its 2019 Open Doors Report on International Student Exchange, released in November, said the total number of international students was 1,095,299, a 0.05% increase over the previous year. Further,

international students make up 5.5% of the total U.S. higher education population. And according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, an increase of 5.5% from the previous year.

Breaking the numbers down to Prairie Business’s three-state coverage area, it looks like this: 

  • The estimated international student expenditure during 2018-10 academic year in North Dakota was $53,445,006. Most of the state’s international students came from Canada (16.5%), but China (15.7%), India (9.5%), South Korea (6.2%) and Japan (5%) also were represented.
  • Estimated expenditures of international students in South Dakota was $45,375,976, with most of the international student population in the state being from India (15.6%).
  • Monetary contributions in Minnesota was $482,542,587. Most of the international student population here came from China (28.6%). 

Besides expanding its own footprint and enticing more students to the campus in Mitchell, Thomas said, the effort by Dakota Wesleyan University to enroll more international students has a larger dividend for the region’s economy. 

“We can tell a number of stories about international students completing their studies at DWU and staying in the community or region,” she said. “As a perfect example, we currently employ an international graduate in our admissions office and are greatly benefiting from his cultural awareness as well as his ability to speak Spanish. 

“As you can imagine, this is very helpful in recruiting both international and domestic students who speak Spanish and he adds a great dynamic to our team.”

Thomas believes many other industries in the region can benefit from these same efforts as they hire international students. 

“That goes without mentioning just the increase in workforce,” she said. “These are students that are coming to Mitchell for an experience, gaining a great education and if the university and the community can make that experience great, they just might stay and make it their home.”

That is at least a long-term goal of the more immediate efforts of recruiting additional international students. 

To date, the university has welcomed students from many countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Ecuador, England, Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, Panama, South Africa, Uganda and the United Kingdom. 

Thomas said foreign students often are attracted to pursuing business and science degrees.

“We also think there may be a market for our masters in business administration and our graduate level nonprofit church leadership program,” she said. 

What other schools are doing

Colleges and universities that do not have recruiting offices in foreign lands still find avenues to attract international students.

In the case of the University of Minnesota Crookston, the school uses a number of strategies to attract international students, according to the university’s John Hoffman, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. He said one of the ways that has proven most successful is partnering with other institutions, in which, he explained, the school “developed memos of understanding and partnership agreements over the years,” including “working with several recruitment agencies in Asia.”

“We do not have recruitment offices, per se. We work with agencies that serve South Korea, Vietnam, and China. We have also had success in recruiting students from South Asia, Africa, and South America,” he said. “These focused strategies help us to build stronger relationships and familiarity with our partners, which helps to promote positive transitions and success for our international students.”

Hoffman said while many of the school’s students return to their homelands after graduation, many others choose to stay. But even those who decide to return home still contribute to the local economy while they are here and add to the cultural experience of the area. 

“The larger value is more indirect, as the presence of international students on campus bolsters the internationalization of the curriculum for all students,” he said. “Thus, domestic students who stay in the region after they graduate have stronger global competencies, which helps them with global aspects of markets, business, etc.”

In Minot, N.D., 294 international students were enrolled in the fall 2019 semester at Minot State University, or nearly 3% of the school’s total student population of 3,000. 

The school attracts international students through its “Grow North Dakota” tuition model, which allows all students to pay in-state rates, according to Libby Claerbout, the university’s director of International Programs. 

“The one-rate tuition model helps Minot State stand out nationally and internationally as a welcoming place for all students,” she said. “In-state tuition helps us stay competitive.”  

While the school does not have any recruitment offices in other locations, its enrollment services staff takes frequent trips to Canada to work with Canadian applicants and their parents. 

At the University of North Dakota, based in Grand Forks, incoming president Dr. Andrew Armacost told Prairie Business that international students play a vital role at the school for a number of reasons, including economic ones, but also “to bring an international perspective to life on campus.”

The university does not have a specific international recruitment program, according to Debbie Storrs, senior vice provost of Academic Affairs, but said the university relies on its website to attract international students. If a student is looking for schools with a good aerospace program, for instance, he or she likely will find UND on the web. 

Storrs said besides international students coming to the campus, the university encourages domestic students to study abroad. 

According to UND’s “Enrollment Profile – Demographics, Academics and Residency,” said university spokesman David Dodds, the school had 537 international students, or about 4 percent of its total 13,581 students, from the 2019 UND census headcount.

“Certainly there's an economic benefit if you have students who are coming in and paying tuition, whether it's full tuition or partial tuition,” Armacost said. “That, of course, helps the bottom line of the university.” 

But there’s another real-life impact that is important to him. Armacost, who is slated to begin his new duties on June 1, said having a robust international program is important to his administration and plans to make it one of his priorities.  

“The more we can pull in folks from across the globe,” he said, “the more real the impact of globalization and all of our students will have an appreciation for what it means to be a citizen of the world, and how the social and economic and political interplay happens between the United States and the rest of the world.”


Prairie Business Editor Andrew Weeks may be reached at or 701-780-1276. Also find him on Twitter @PB_AndrewWeeks.