By Jeff Murphy, November 27, 2023
While participating in a recent graduate commencement ceremony at the University of Central Missouri , a master's degree candidate displays India's national colors while celebrating his achievement with other graduating international students at UCM.
WARRENSBURG, MO – In its annual release of international student data Open Doors® ranked the University of Central Missouri third among master’s degree-granting institutions with the highest enrollment of students from outside the United States. The 2022-2023 report shows a move upward from the sixth spot on the list a year ago, continuing to place UCM in the top 10 among universities listed within the same institutional type. UCM ranked the highest among Missouri public and private colleges and universities that offer both baccalaureate and master’s degrees.
Open Doors® is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and receives funding from the federal government. Its implementation is supported by the Institute of International Education (IIE), which seeks to help people and organizations thrive in today’s highly connected global environment by leveraging the power of international education.
With 3,777 total international students for 2022-2023, UCM was one of 40 master’s degree-granting institutions that were named to the list. Demonstrating the breadth of institutions nationwide that were included in the ranking, UCM’s placement was only below Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, which had 4,342 international students, and San Jose State University in San Jose, California, which topped the list with 4,671 students.
“Like U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review, these rankings are valuable in showing prospective students and outside stakeholders that UCM is a great study destination,” said Phil Hull, director of International Student Services. “However, they also inform our UCM community that what we have here is special and doesn't go unrecognized.”
He added, “UCM’s ranking among colleges and universities in more familiar states/geographic locations on the coast and in larger cities is significant. And these rankings don't go unnoticed by our international education peers.”
Hull noted that during the 2021-2022 academic year, international student enrollment reached 2,063 students. The latest data by Open Doors® shows an increase of 1,714 students over that previous ranking. While UCM attracts students from dozens of countries across the globe, the largest international student populations are comprised of students from countries that include India, Kenya, Nigeria and South Korea.
Factors that contribute to a boost in international enrollment, according to Hull, include a strong desire to pursue UCM’s master’s programs in STEM areas. This includes graduate degree opportunities in Information Technology, Computer Science, Computer Information Systems, Big Data Analytics, Cybersecurity, the new Data Science and Artificial Intelligence degree, Technology, and Industrial Management programs.
While these programs are attractive to students across the globe, other factors contributing to the increase in international relate to a diversification in recruitment strategy to include nurturing new and existing university partnerships, including those overseas. The university also offers a new flat tuition rate for international students which has made the institution more competitive, and the university has exchange and sponsored student partnerships which permit students with J-1 visas to study for one to two semesters at UCM. This is all supported by dedicated employees who work hard to help create an inviting atmosphere for international students.
“UCM faculty, staff and students care and provide an exceptional learning and living environment,” Hull said.
He also noted that “word of mouth” is important to the university’s reputation overseas. As Hull put it, “Good news travels fast, and our international students have good things to say about their experiences here.”
While international students informally play an ambassador-type role for the university by sharing information about their positive experiences with others in their home countries, having international students on campus also enables local students to learn more about their international classmates’ perspectives regarding the U.S. It exposes domestic students to different languages, social mores and enhances their understanding of community.
“To me, differences are the essence of learning and understanding,” Hull said. “Paradoxically, those differences serve as a lens for understanding how we are, really, similar to one another."
“It sounds cliché, but the world is a small place,” he added. “International students are not the only ones at UCM who play this ambassador role – we all do, in our own way. But international students are a vital part of that mix.”
Although it was not addressed in the Open Doors® report, there is also a tremendous economic benefit for states and counties that host international students. The National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) has reported that international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities generate
$40.1 billion and support 368,333 jobs nationwide. On a regional level, NAFSA estimates that within the organization’s Missouri District 4, which covers a large number of counties mostly in west Central Missouri, the impact of UCM’s international students is $97.4 million, which supports 459 jobs. NAFSA states for every three international students, one job is created because of spending that occurs in higher education, local accommodations, dining, retail, transportation, telecommunications and health insurance sectors.