Northwest Community College has hired a recruiter to boost its population of international students from 12 this year to as many as 40 by this time next year.
College vice president Justin Kohlman says the aim is to expand programs by expanding student population.
“What we want to do is offer as many programs as possible for students in the northwest. In order to do that we need a critical mass of students,” he said. “By bringing in international students, we can therefore offer more courses.”
Kohlman said the college needed to hire an international recruiter because attracting students from abroad is very complex as it involves research, travel, building up social and college supports for those students who come and developing partnerships with universities and high schools across the world. Those partnerships could be as simple as having international students study one semester or more in Terrace before moving on, or having domestic students study two years here and then travel abroad for the rest of their education.
Though Kohlman acknowledged that international students pay higher tuition — $269 per credit compared to $88 for domestic students — he said that is not the primary driver stimulating the international focus.
“Yes they do pay additional tuition,” he said, “but there are also additional costs supporting them and recruitment costs. At the end of the day it’s not a financial decision.”
Derek Lemieux, who is the newly-hired of international recruiter, said much the same, noting that the aim is simply to grow enrolment and diversify the student body.
“Our goal is to create a diverse student population… that will really contribute to the atmosphere at the college and the culture in the cities that we are in.”
He said another driver is economic, as it is encouraged by the provincial government.
“Having international students is good for the economy,” said Lemieux, explaining that students who move here spend money on goods and services and on tourism.
The college’s 12 international students this year, spread across its campuses in the north, come from 11 countries.
Most of Lemiuex’s work will be corresponding with foreign recruitment agencies, similar to travel agencies, to promote northern B.C. study opportunities as well as travel.
Next month Lemieux is headed to Qinhuangdao, China – the city with which the City of Terrace is developing a close economic relationship with through the purchase by an economic development corporation there, which involves half of the city’s Skeena Industrial Development Park.
College officials were included in a local delegation to visit Qinhuangdao earlier this year. “We are looking to complement that relationship and it’s something that we are looking to grow,” said Lemieux.
The college also wants to enhance its business program diploma status next year with the expectation of luring more international students.
“A lot of international students will have attended post secondary education in their home country and are looking to study abroad after completing that credential,” said Lemieux.
Another focus is establishing a home stay program so that international students can live with a local family while in the northwest.
Lemieux is now working to find families willing to take in international students.
“We want to provide a number of options for our international students… and make sure that they have the supports that they need,” he said.
He said that one of main enticements of northern B.C. is its natural beauty.
“Our surroundings here are really unique, so the opportunities to get out in nature and experience real Canadian culture, is one of the draws,” he said. “One of the challenges is convincing students to come to the north… a lot of people automatically associate B.C. with Vancouver.”
But Lemieux says he promotes Terrace and northern communities as “welcoming and very safe communities” with strong First Nations connections and cultural opportunities.
College summer field schools are also a particular draw in which students travel the region to investigate its geography, volcanic and glacial landscapes, wildlife and First Nations cultures.
Besides college and university studies and several years at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario doing international recruitment, Lemieux also lived and worked in Japan for five years.
He worked for the local governments in international education and helped with the English language program there, experiencing the adjustments of culture shock and language immersion.
“The experience provided a good foundation for what I am doing now,” he said of his work.