Yanran Xiong, 22, from Guiyang City in China has been in the U.S. for close to 4-years now as she finishes up her communications degree at USD. Currently she serves as the vice-president of the International Student Organization. — Nelvin C. Cepeda
The San Diego Union Tribune -Aryaman Madireddy always knew he wanted to leave his native India to study abroad. That day came in August, when the 18-year-old arrived at the University of San Diego.
An avid sailor with an interest in business, it seemed like a fitting choice.
“The University of San Diego is supposed to have one of the best business schools in the world, so this was a very good decision,” he said. “It’s been a very welcoming experience.”
Madireddy is part of a growing pool of foreign students enrolled in San Diego colleges and universities, drawn largely by the relaxing lifestyle and the promise of a first-rate education.
It mirrors a nationwide trend, with the number of international students reaching a record high in recent years.
Universities are eager to welcome these students, with many sending staffers overseas to recruit applicants. School officials say international students add new perspective and diversity to the student body, while bringing in significant revenue.
An estimated 886,000 international students studied at U.S. colleges and universities in the 2013-2014 school year, an 8 percent increase over the previous school year, according to the Institute of International Education. About half of the students hail from China, India and South Korea, according to the group.
Mariam Assefa, executive director of World Education Services, said the growing number of international students corresponds with economic growth in developing countries.
“In the emerging economies in countries such as China, there is a growing middle class that is pretty ambitious when it comes to its young people. People believe there is value in sending their kids to study abroad,” Assefa said. “The U.S. has the strongest reputation when it comes to our education system. American universities are considered to be the best.”
Assefa said California is particularly popular, with the state hosting the largest number of foreign students each year. They contributed $4 million to the state’s economy in the 2013-2014 academic year, according to the Association of International Educators.
Enrollment data from the University of San Diego, San Diego State University and UC San Diego show the number of international students has skyrocketed in the past five years, a pattern that’s likely to continue as universities ramp up recruiting efforts.
An estimated 2,755 foreign students — both graduate and undergraduate — enrolled at San Diego State University this fall, an increase of nearly 400 enrollments since last year. The school’s foreign population has grown by about 1,200 since 2010.
At the University of San Diego, 621 foreign students enrolled this fall, compared with 611 in 2014 and 400 in 2010. The tally includes undergraduate, graduate and law school students.
Leading the trend locally is UC San Diego, which enrolled 3,379 foreign undergraduate students alone last fall, a 23 percent jump from the previous year and a nearly 75 percent increase from the fall of 2010.
The climb in international students in recent years is likely a result of UC San Diego’s long-term plan to diversify the campus. The school had previously aimed to have 18 percent of its undergraduates be nonresident students — both out-of-state and international — by 2025.
It’s surpassed that goal, with nonresident students accounting for 20 percent of undergraduates, according to a school spokeswoman.
The strategy to internationalize the student body is used in most schools within the University of California system as a way to bolster revenue, particularly as public funding shrinks.
At UC San Diego, for example, an undergraduate California resident who lives on campus would pay $31,365 in tuition and expenses, while a nonresident would pay $56,073.
Bradley Moon, director of international recruitment at SDSU, said the school participates in a number of recruitment fairs around the world. An SDSU representative recently spent two weeks in India visiting high schools. Another is preparing to leave for a three-week recruiting trip to Hong Kong.
“We have world-class education offerings, especially in San Diego. Our schools are known globally. I think that that’s something that we have to our advantage,” Moon said. “As we all move up in rankings and our research is recognized globally, I think that gets a lot of attention.”
Though foreign students aren’t offered any financial incentives to enroll — they’re required to pay full tuition at most U.S. universities — Moon said the allure of studying at a reputable school in a desirable location is enough to draw a large number of students.
“It’s a huge industry,” he said. “Universities worldwide are clamoring to increase their international footprint.”
Critics, however, worry the trend will push out qualified local high school students. They also argue that domestic students are much likelier to remain in the United States upon graduation, contributing to the workforce and in taxes.
Madireddy, a freshman at USD, is an undeclared major but plans to study business administration, a subject that sparked his interest in high school. His father is a pharmaceutical entrepreneur in India.
He traveled to the U.S. on an F-1 visa, issued to international students who enroll full-time in an academic, language-training or vocational program culminating in a degree. M-1 visas are available to foreign nationals who wish to pursue programs in vocational or other certified non-academic schools.
There are 1 million international students in the U.S. under F-1 and M-1 visas, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
For USD senior Yanran Xiong of China, the city’s relaxed culture played a significant role in choosing the university.
Xiong, 22, said it was important for her to attend a school where she could get an exceptional education, but equally important to live in an environment where she could feel at ease.
“The life’s pace in larger cities is really fast, everyone is always walking so fast. I don’t like that. San Diego is such a relaxing city. You can always find a way to relax yourself after school,” she said.