VCU draws international students

When international students travel to Richmond, many name Virginia Commonwealth University as their final destination.

“I support the international students because it not only is a great way to extend their education, but also my own,” said Rachel Hunter, a third-year student studying dance at VCU. “I may not be able to study abroad, but this way they are bringing some culture here. It extends everyone’s education.”

Peter Kirkpatrick, who recently was appointed executive director of international education, said he thinks VCU’s conditional acceptance program and its urban environment in Richmond attracts students from other countries.

“VCU is allowed conditional acceptance,” Kirkpatrick said, explaining that those having poor English skills can be issued conditional approval.

If the students’ grades and their Test of English as a Foreign Language scores are high but their English skills are weak, he said, his office and the university still will recommend the visa to come to VCU.

Those having a weak command of English must join the English Language Program, which has a 16 to 1 student-teacher ratio that allows students to receive more individual attention.

“As for the fall 2004 semester,” Kirkpatrick said, “there are 48 international students enrolled in the (English Language) program.”
VCU’s interfacing with Richmond’s physical, social and cultural environment, plus its proximity to the nation’s capital, also draws students from other countries to the area.

“It has what you want from a city,” Kirkpatrick said. “Richmond has a nice on-campus/off-campus balance. It is not overbearing where it distracts from studies.”

Alan Sack, director of institutional reporting and analysis, said the official enrollment data goes to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia in early November. As of Sept.16, the enrollment data for fall 2004 listed 759 international students enrolled in classes on the Monroe Park and the Medical Center campuses. That figure includes 367 undergraduates, 373 graduate students and 19 prehealth students.

“We would like to see the number grow to at least 1,200 by 2007,” Kirkpatrick said. “Every graduate school has at least one foreign student.

The institutional reporting data for the fall semester show the highest number (222) of undergraduates register in the College of Humanities and Sciences, while most graduates (75) enroll in the School of Engineering.

“Sometimes the international students are the best in certain fields,” Kirkpatrick said, and many prehealth programs contain honors students. “We are attracting very, very good students.

“Everyone is just thirsty for knowledge. They (the international students) are hard workers and expect a good education. It keeps everyone honest.”

According to the online 2005 edition of the U.S. News and World Report Magazine, Virginia Commonwealth University ranks as the most diverse university in Virginia.

“The international students are part of the reason as to why we are so diverse,” Hunter said. “We are also already diverse enough for international students to feel open to coming here.

“We appreciate them with such a diverse population.”

Nada Mallick, a third-year multicultural-American student, said international students fit into the cultural dichotomy:

“They assimilate.”

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