With COVID-19, the number of international students at UW-Stout declined about 40% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to Scott Pierson, director of the Office of International Education.
UW-Stout is anticipating a return of greater than or equal to prepandemic annual numbers during the 2021-2022 academic year. “Approximately 200 students have been admitted thus far for fall 2021, though we are tapering our expectations with the understanding that we are still operating under a global pandemic. Many U.S. consulates are still functioning at limited capacity, and visas may not be possible in certain overseas markets,” Pierson said.
UW-Stout has seen increased inquiries from more than 50 countries, including Bangladesh, France, Ghana, Japan, Nigeria, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Philippines, Korea, China and more.
“The good news is that we are seeing significant interest again from international students in pursuing higher education in the U.S. as the premier destination,” Pierson added. “It’s uplifting and positive to see.”
The successful COVID-19 national vaccine deployment, emphasis on health and safety and implementation of mitigation measures, particularly within higher education, have helped international students feel ready to travel to and attend U.S. colleges in person, Pierson said.
Attracting the best and brightest students from around the world builds U.S. pre-eminence in academic research and scientific innovation, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the largest association dedicated to international education and exchange.
International students often become leaders in their respective fields and champions for democracy when they return home, Pierson said. Data also shows many business and industry chief executive officers and presidents have studied abroad, demonstrating the power of international education, he added.
International students bring a unique and critically important perspective to classes, the campus and community, providing educational and cultural growth opportunities for those who cannot travel or study overseas, Pierson said. “It’s a tremendous advantage to have the world come to us and have that perspective in the classroom. The inescapable reality is that we live in an interconnected world, and global partnerships are necessary to resolve 21st century challenges,” he noted.
UW-Stout’s polytechnic advantage, paired with high-impact international learning, creates a recipe for transnational success, Pierson said.
Menomonie and UW-Stout offer a very safe campus and welcoming setting for international students, Pierson said. Because of competitive international student scholarships offered and a community service component, international students have been making a positive impact within the local community. UW-Stout’s international student body contributes more than 1,000 hours of volunteer service per term.
“The town of Menomonie and region has been particularly receptive to our international students with countless families volunteering to participate in our friendship family program, whereby students and local families engage in cultural sharing,” said Pierson. “At the onset of the pandemic, many families reached out and offered to lend a helping hand. Our international students feel valued and appreciated from day one, and they appreciate the small-town, family-focused community.”
Furthermore, the benefits for U.S. students studying abroad cannot be understated, Pierson said. They tend to have higher retention, higher graduation rates and higher grade point averages. Exposure to a different point of view through a lived experience in another culture, often learning another language and overcoming daily challenges, is a life-changing experience that sets up participants for success, he said.
As part of the proposed Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act and other initiatives, NAFSA is seeking additional funding from Congress to help revive study abroad programs, encourage underrepresented participation, study at nontraditional destinations and an overall increase in the number of participating students to one million per year. UW-Stout was awarded a 2020 grant from the U.S. State Department and World Learning’s capacity-building IDEAS — Increase and Diversity Education Abroad for U.S. Students.
Study abroad interest up too
UW-Stout offers more than 200 study abroad opportunities in over 30 countries. While study abroad has not been possible during the past 18 months because of the pandemic, the outlook for UW-Stout’s outbound mobility looks brighter as well.
Pierson estimated that short-term faculty-led programming as well as semester student exchanges are due to rebound during 2021-2022 academic year, assuming there are not further setbacks internationally from the global pandemic.
UW-Stout winter term and spring 2022 study abroad is off to a strong start with 90 student applications in process, including faculty-led programs to Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Japan, and Greece, which provide opportunity for students to earn academic credit in biology, business, education, art and history.