KU’s new international recruitment program hits first enrollment target, but has yet to hire permanent leader

From left, KU students Shiran Zhang, Kejing Wang and Boling Huang, all from China, participate in their Kansas Environment and Culture class, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. All are enrolled in KU's new International Academic Accelerator program.

Yuhan Ye

Eugene Gasiev

Kansas University’s fledgling international student recruitment program met its modest first-semester goal, and leaders are confident enrollment will grow even as colleges increasingly compete for the same student pool.

The International Academic Accelerator Program, a partnership between KU and private company Shorelight Education, was formally announced in February.

The ultimate goal is to nearly double KU’s international enrollment in about four years, said Sara Rosen, KU’s senior vice provost for academic affairs. Currently, 7 percent of undergrads and 9.3 percent of KU students overall are international. Rosen would like to see that number rise to 15 percent or 16 percent, closer to KU’s research-extensive peers.

For a flat fee of about $45,000, the all-in-one-style Academic Accelerator Program provides 12 months of room, board, tuition and activities for participating international students, Rosen said.

Coursework focuses on intensive English and cultural instruction. Rosen said students emerge with about 30 credit hours and, hopefully, go on to enroll at KU as sophomores and continue through graduation.

The Academic Accelerator Program had a goal of recruiting 60 students for its first semester and ended up with 57 starting classes this fall.

“We’re very excited that we met that goal with a very repressed timeline,” said Todd Fritch, the program’s interim managing director.

The program aims to add 35 more students in the spring, 15 in the summer and around 225 in fall of 2015. The target number for fall is tentative, as it has yet to be finalized by the program steering committee.

But Fritch thinks it would be do-able.

“That’s a realistic goal based on how well KU is resonating in the market,” Fritch said. “It’s a very, very attractive institution.”

Director search ongoing

While students are in place, the program still lacks permanent hires for two of its top three jobs.

Fritch is an employee of Shorelight, “loaned” to KU until it finds the right permanent candidate for managing director of the Academic Accelerator Program, Rosen said.

Ideally, she said, the candidate will have many of Fritch’s qualifications: international and academic background with the ability to manage a budget and staff, oversee a curriculum and work simultaneously in higher education and private business systems.

“They really have to be able to bridge both of those worlds,” she said. “All of us on the KU side and the Shorelight side agree it’s more important that we get the right person than we do it fast.”

KU did a search over the summer, did not find a candidate and agreed with Shorelight to close the search, Rosen said. Shorelight is now overseeing the search for a managing director.

John Dahlstrand has been hired as the program’s student services director.

Rosen said KU will probably post the academic director position in the spring. In the meantime, Antha Cotten-Spreckelmeyer, a longtime leader in KU’s Humanities and Western Civilization program, is interim academic director.

Competing for internationals

International students are big business these days in higher education.

U.S. colleges enrolled a record 886,052 foreign students in the 2013-2014 school year, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report released this month.

KU wants more international students to diversify its student body and to help stabilize enrollment, Rosen said.

She said the pool of in-state high-school graduates is not growing, so KU — just like many other colleges — is looking to bring in out-of-state and out-of-country students. In addition, international and out-of-state students pay much higher tuition.

The Academic Accelerator Program joins a number of other programs in place for international students, and the hope is that it will help participants be comfortable enough to stay here and academically prepared enough to graduate.

“This is really all part of our attempt to further internationalize the institution,” Rosen said. “And if we’re going to do that, we really want to do that in a way to help students be successful.”

Rosen said she was “thrilled” with how KU’s partnership with Shorelight is going so far.

She said the company brings its international student expertise yet has been deferential to the university on the academic side.

KU’s revenue-sharing agreement with Shorelight is for 15 years but can be left by either party if targets are not met, Rosen has said.

Once administrative expenses are paid, KU and Shorelight will split tuition money 50-50 from students enrolled in the Academic Accelerator Program. After a student recruited by Shorelight progresses in the university beyond the program, KU will retain 90 percent of their tuition while Shorelight will get 10 percent for up to three years.

Further details of the contract are not public. In March, Shorelight sought and won an injunction in Douglas County District Court barring its release to the Journal-World.

Students settling in

The first Academic Accelerator Class has students from China, India, Vietnam, Russia and Nigeria. They’re about three-fourths men and one-fourth women, according to the program.

International students choosing KU like the idea of an all-encompassing program, as well as KU’s academic reputation and ranking of programs, Fritch said.

At least two of the new students echoed that.

Yuhan Ye, from China, first heard about KU when the men’s basketball team won the 2008 national championship.

He wanted to attend college abroad because his well-traveled parents said it would enrich his life, he said. Besides the basketball team, KU’s Academic Accelerator Program — which would help him with English and count for credit — and the quality of its geography program attracted him.

Ye said the program’s organized activities are nice, “to help us be a real member at KU.”

Student Eugene Gasiev of Moscow said there’s a perception in Russia that Western colleges are more prestigious, and that’s attractive to potential employers.

He initially thought he’d go to college in the United Kingdom, where his sister attends.

“Then I found out that this university has this cool program, and also the university has a pretty good architecture program,” he explained.

He said KU and the Academic Accelerator Program have been welcoming — “extra welcoming,” in fact.

“Most of the people that I met were more excited than I was about me being here,” Gasiev said. “Everyone was extra friendly.”