According to a recent study, more international students are enrolling in Virginia universities each year, and Virginia Tech is attracting the most.
The Institute of International Education reports approximately 15,170 foreign students enrolled in the state last academic year, putting Virginia at No. 14 in the nation for international students.
Tech leads the state with 2,578 international students.
“Being a (STEM) school, we do have national inquiry about our engineering program,” said Suzie Baker, assistant director of the Cranwell International Center.
STEM stands for "science, technology, engineering and mathematics," and many international students are attracted to those programs in the United States. Fewer foreign students are enrolled in liberal arts studies than STEM studies.
“I had other choices of American schools after finishing secondary school in Lebanon,” said Rashad Assir, a freshman engineering student. “But Tech’s well-known engineering reputation drew me to Blacksburg.”
Jacky Hou, another freshman engineering student, was also drawn to Tech for its engineering program. However, Hou, who is originally from Shanghai, knew the area from studying abroad during high school.
"I was an exchange student in Stafford, (Va.), and I really like it here," Hou said. "(Now), this is like my half-home."
The only program that seems to attract more international students than STEM is business. According to the study, 22 percent of all international students pursuing an American college degree chose a business and management track, with engineering trailing closely at 18 percent.
Freshman management student Siddhanth Pai chose Tech because an advisor in his home of Chennai, India knew that the university ranked among the best for business. However, Pai has noticed that Tech allows him to explore interests beyond the classroom.
"I came to study business," said Pai, who is a member of the club golf team. "(Also), the program here allows a lot of free time, so I can spend time on golf."
The nation-wide influx of international students may also explain why the international student population of graduate students exceeded undergraduates last year. Graduate enrollment for international students tends to be higher than undergraduate. While international students are not eligible for traditional financial aid that American students are, the graduate school offers a variety of funding opportunities within its studies.
University assistantships, sponsorship by their respective government agencies, and scholarships from their home countries all help foreign graduates pay for school in ways not available to similar undergraduates.
Blacksburg’s location in Southwest Virginia has made the school’s steady diversification process unique.
Schools like George Mason — with 2,159 international students — and Virginia Commonwealth University, which also follows closely behind Tech in foreign population, have the advantage of urban locations.
The largest international demographic in the state comes from East Asia. Students from China and Korea combined comprise nearly 30 percent of the state's foreign-born enrollment, followed by India at more than 13 percent and Saudi Arabia with more than 6 percent. Vietnam has 3 percent.
Yifei Fan, a freshman engineering major from China, recognized that Tech has a large Chinese population and that was a plus for him when deciding where to attend school.
"I want to be around American culture and improve my English," Fan said, noting that having Chinese friends is also still important.
Presently, the Tech admissions office has not actively recruited foreign students. However, the school does have a stated mission to increase "engagement in many dimensions throughout the international arena."
University President Charles Steger’s New Horizons plan aims to prepare campus for the new age of globalized technology. The goal is to “pursue the local-global connections that join our resident international students with domestic students”. The philosophy ultimately predicts that students equipped with diverse, globalized skills will be most valuable in the shifting job market.
With Tech's globalizing efforts, admissions predicts that international students will continue to enroll at Tech increasingly in the future.