What’s pushing Minnesota’s drive for more foreign students?

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Yesterday afternoon, a group of Minnesota schools and colleges announced they were teaming up to lure more foreign students to the state.

For more details, I talked today to Christina Hilpipre-Frischman, who is chairwoman of the the new 21-member group, called “Study Minnesota.”


She said the schools have been talking about teaming up for a few years, but the Minnesota Trade Office and U.S. Commercial Service helped get the group off the ground.

So why are the feds interested?

She told me:

“The U.S. government is very interested in having larger international student populations on our campuses, because it is considered an export. And they want to increase U.S. exports. And so there definitely is a push.”

Hilpipre-Frischman said roughly two dozen states have similar groups.

Banding together and sharing ideas and resources, she said, should help the group produce more effective marketing materials for Minnesota. (You can see their website here.)

The group also hopes to give Minnesota a higher profile on recruiting trips abroad. Hilpipre-Frischman said schools and colleges usually recruit alone or with other U.S. institutions.

But by traveling together, she said, Minnesota schools could have enough of a presence to hold Minnesota-only college fairs.

That’s where government officials can also help.

In addition to helping out with marketing tools, she said, the government could help with the logistics of overseas recruiting trips.

And it can keep the colleges abreast of international trends:

“The schools that do recruit internationally are always looking at the top feeder countries. But it’s constantly changing, and having the U.S. government and state government as our partners kind of keeps us on the edge of what’s going to happen next — what’s going to be the next emerging market for international students.”

(At the moment, close to 30 percent of the foreign students in Minnesota are from China, according to the Open Doors 2012 report above. Another 20 percent are split between South Korea and India, followed by Nepal at just under 5 percent and good ol’ Canada at 3.5 percent. Europe remains largely elusive, Hilpipre-Frischman said, because students there can study at high-quality institutions for free. With the advent of tuition and fees at some universities there, though, that could change in the coming years.)

Minnesota is 19th in the country in the number of foreign students it educates, according to the Open Doors report. It had close to 13,000 such students in 2012.

Not bad. But that standing could improve:

“We are still competitors. But if we can promote Minnesota and put Minnesota on the map in different countries, it’s going to benefit all of us.”

Of course, schools gain financially when foreign students boost enrollment. And those students often pay higher tuition than domestic students do.

But Hilpipre-Frischman told me American students benefit as well:

“International students coming to the United States really enrich our classrooms by providing that global perspective that maybe our domestic students haven’t yet experienced in their lives.”