Maine campuses go international

Posted on February 12, 2013 in News
By sdritz

Starting in the fall of 2013, the public universities in Maine may start seeing an upswing in international students. The schools that will most likely be the most impacted are the University of Southern Maine and The University of Maine Orono, which will both be installing International Student Study Centers as a part of the University of Maine System’s new program for recruiting international students.

UMaine will be home to the first of these centers, which are an innovation brought about by the UMS’s decision to partner with Study Group International, a group which has been working since 1994 to connect students from all over the world with schools outside their home countries at which they may study. The USM center is expected to be ready and active for the spring of 2014.

Janet Waldron is the UMaine’s senior vice president for administration and finance and the leader of this system-wide initiative. She explained that the study centers are meant to provide a resource for international students, helping them to improve their English and to adjust to living in a foreign country. “They’re there for acculturation as well as English support,” Waldron said.

In the guidelines of the initiative listed in a document from the board of trustees meeting held on Monday, Jan. 28 in Orono, the trustees mandated that no financial aid will be awarded to these new international students. Waldron confirmed this, adding that these students will pay full out-of-state tuition.

The UMS is not the first set of state universities looking to improve its international student programs. In fact, the recent phenomenon is so widespread that the National Association for College Admission Counseling has put together a commission to study the appearance of increased international student recruitment. One of the commission’s main observations, as expressed in the public summary of their meeting in March last year, is that schools are increasing international student recruitment in order to meet their budget deficits. The concern is that the schools might not, as a result, have the resources to support those international students.

While the trustees’ mandate that no financial aid be expended on these students might seem to signal this concern, the tuition they will be charged is no more than the regular out-of-state tuition. Waldron’s description of the purpose of the study centers, as a support system both linguistically and culturally, seems to directly answer the concern that schools might attempt to recruit international students without providing them the necessary resources.

As for the volume of this recruitment, Waldron says the objective is to try to recruit 400 students per year system-wide with the hope of recruiting 1,000 total after four years. However, the admissions decisions will still be entirely in the hands of the individual institutions to which the prospective students will be applying. “The admissions decisions are made by the university,” Waldron said, “We set the admissions criteria.” Study Group’s role is to detail that criteria to prospective students and show them how to apply.

This expanded international program is not meant to replace the means by which international students already attend the UMS, and is, according to Waldron, meant to be complementary to them. The board of trustees’ list of objectives from the board meeting expressed the hope that this program would boost on-campus housing numbers. The project is certainly not free of economic consideration. Said Waldron, “We will be compensated through Study Group.”