Numbers stay strong despite political questions, decreases at other universities

International student admissions increase at AU


The incoming freshmen class is bringing more than just larger numbers to campus—it is also bringing more diversity.

This year, Augustana’s international student application submissions increased by 37 percent and deposits rose 62.5 percent compared to this time last year, said Philip Mulder, assistant director of international admission.

Deposits do not mean international students will definitively come to Augustana, but the chances are better since they have submitted a non-refundable payment, Mulder said.

“We are a little bit surprised at the increases because we haven’t traveled as much,” Mulder said.

He said traveling to countries to promote Augustana plays a large role in recruitment for international students.

Sophomore Dennisse Alcivar is from Ecuador. She said she was inspired to go to Augustana because Ben Iverson, former director of international admissions, visited her high school.

“It was great to have that face-to-face connection,” Alcivar said. “My parents felt better after meeting [Iverson] and told me they wouldn’t let me go anywhere else.”

Other universities in South Dakota show varying trends.

University of South Dakota’s international student applications grew in number, too.

The creation of an International Office on campus and more traveling efforts to recruit students is the primary reason behind USD’s increase, said Tina Kjolhaug, USD’s assistant director of international recruitment.

But not all local universities have seen increases. South Dakota State University’s international student applications have decreased.

“We are down in applications right now by about 25 applications,” Greg Wymer, SDSU’s director of international students, said. “This represents about a 10 percent decrease.”

Wymer speculated that politics have contributed to SDSU’s lower application rate.

“I believe the political climate is affecting our international applications—especially those applications coming from Muslim countries,” Wymer said. “It is having a negative effect on both prospective and current international students. It definitely affects their perspective on how welcoming the U.S. is to foreign nationals.”

Mulder said while he was surprised to see increases considering the current political climate, he anticipates some students will be denied entry to the U.S.

“I expect 10 students to be denied visas right off the bat,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but it can’t be helped.”

Because of immigration laws, some international students may be accepted to Augustana and pay their deposit but still be denied a visa.

Augustana’s International Programs Office used several tactics that could have caused the increase in applications, according to Mulder. For instance, Augustana pays for Google advertising and utilizes social media tools to promote its brand.

On Jan. 30, the “Augustana Goes International” Facebook page shared a photo of the IPO staff holding papers that read, “#YouAreWelcomeHere.” The post has received 13,000 reactions, has initiated 20,000 overall engagements and has been seen by 52,000 users.

“It only cost $15 to promote that post,” Mulder said.

Certain college search engine websites are helpful as well, since colleges are often listed alphabetically.

Free applications and a rolling admission help too, Mulder said.

Perhaps the most important tool is establishing a personal connection.

Mulder, for example, stayed up until 1 a.m. communicating with a prospective student from Nepal.

“Students have concerns, questions and anxieties,” Mulder said. “I use a variety of apps to communicate with [international students], like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat.”

At Augustana, international students come from 38 countries and constitute nine percent of the student body.

“Our goal is to reach 10 percent,” Mulder said.

International students bring valuable perspectives necessary for a diverse campus, Mulder, Wymer and Kjolhaug said.

“If we do not prepare our domestic students to engage the world, I believe we are doing them a disservice,” Wymer said. “No matter what profession a student chooses, he or she will interact with people from all over the world, and it is important for them to be able to engage others and appreciate people for their differences.”

Mulder echoed Wymer’s sentiment.

“When [international students] are in your Viking community, you become invested in global affairs,” Mulder said.

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