Record international freshmen enrollment

A record-setting 42 international freshman students came to campus this year, and a record number of 48 countries are represented from all grades.

With the new freshmen, Augustana has a total of 135 international students for the 2021-2022 year. According to Heather Reed, the assistant director of operations for the International Programs Office (IPO), another 15 to 20 international students will arrive in the spring.

The 2021-2022 academic year also marks a change in international demographics. Augustana is currently home to many more Ethiopian, Nepali, Chinese, Nigerian, Vietnamese and German students than in normal years.

“Despite what is happening globally, the desire to study in the United States is still very strong,” said Wade Gemar, assistant director of international admissions.

One of the biggest reasons for the increase in international students is how the COVID-19 pandemic has developed over the past two years.

Many students who had hoped to study abroad during the 2020-2021 academic year were unable to because of the pandemic and deferred their abroad programs to the 2021-2022 academic year, creating a larger freshman class than normal.

As vaccine rollout continues around the world, various international embassies are now able to grant student visas when they could not last year. COVID-19 restrictions are also lightening in some areas, making travel easier.

IPO has changed its recruitment strategies over the pandemic. Augsutana’s long-standing relationships with both individual recruits around the world and with recruitment agencies have been a major factor in its increasing international numbers. Both Reed and IPO director Ben Iverson credit Gemar’s recruitment work throughout the pandemic with establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships.

“What I always focus on in my work is transparency, personalized care and humor,” Gemar said. “Those are like the three things that I want to make sure I bring to the table every single day when I work with students, and I think over time that has helped. I think the way I operate is an extension of how Augustana operates.”

International students and their peer ambassadors pose in front of the Ole statue. They are taken on multiple group trips at the beginning of the school year. Photo by International Programs Office.

Recruiting international students during the pandemic was concentrated on seven or eight virtual platforms, rather than recruiters traveling to institutions around the world.

“We compete against much larger schools in the U.S. for international students, and sometimes it feels like […] they’re in every place all the time,” Iverson said. “They’ve got the people, the resources to be everywhere. […] I think one key thing that changed this year is, because nobody can travel, it leveled the playing field a little bit.”

Julian Ruano is an international student from Guatemala. Ruano was originally supposed to come to Augustana in 2020 but was unable to because of the pandemic and took a gap year while waiting for borders to reopen.

“I used a site where I put in my transcript and things I liked and universities reached out,” Ruano said. “One of them was Augustana. I set up a Zoom meeting [with] Wade, and we talked for an hour. I liked it.”

Traveling abroad during an ongoing pandemic is still not easy for international students. Many have been having trouble acquiring state IDs and driver’s licenses in the U.S. and many are unsure if they will be able to return home to see their families during breaks.

Reed said she hopes that having more international peers on Augustana’s campus will help international students feel less alone while they are studying here. The IPO invites the Augustana community to attend the Rendezvous program to learn more about and meet international students every week in the Back Alley.

“This is just a really talented and engaging bunch of students,” Iverson said. “We are so excited that they are here, and we’re confident that they’re having a good experience at Augustana.”

While the future is difficult for the IPO to predict, their goal is to continue to bring more international students to Augustana with both virtual and in-person recruitment as well as through matchmaking recruitment sites.

“I think [international students] bring a lot to our community campus, and so I hope that we can bring more international students to Augie,” Reed said.