Elon University boasts about its international population in many of its publications and all over its website, but this population is marginalized even as the university works to expand it.
The university has a small international student population and is making an effort to further develop the program, but in its attempt to increase the number of international students it has forgotten to provide adequate support for the international students already here.
According to the Elon Fact Book, 6 percent of all graduate and undergraduate students at Elon — 386 out of 6,483 — are international students. In comparison, the College of William & Mary — one of Elon’s peer institutions — has 667 international students, making up 7.9 percent of its total student population.
But Elon’s statistics for international students aren’t as impressive in reality as they seem on paper.
While Elon claims 386 international students, only 107 students are citizens of a country other than the United States. Elon counts U.S. citizens living in another country — also known as “Overseas Americans” — as international students, regardless of how much time they’ve spent in another country. Elon also includes legal U.S. residents in its statistics for international students.
Overseas Americans comprise 14 percent of Elon’s international population. Together with dual citizens and green card holders, U.S. citizens or legal residents make up 72.3 percent of Elon’s “international” student population.
These students don’t always capture the diversity implied Elon’s international student statistics.
The statistics imply Elon’s international student population is larger and more diverse than it really is. They also mislead incoming international students by preparing them for an engaged international population when, in reality, they may not find the one they anticipated.
Excluding U.S. citizens and legal residents from the international student demographic, Elon’s international student population drops to 107 students — 1.7 percent of all students.
Understandably, Elon is working to bring more international students to campus and improve this number. But the university needs to shift its focus from attracting more international students to supporting the international students already enrolled. Services for these students should be moved to a more central location, such as Moseley Center, and opportunities for them to explore the United States beyond Elon’s campus should be increased and promoted.
The International Fellows program, which brought many international students to campus, has been discarded, and the current freshman class of Fellows is the last one. Additionally, only one campus employee — Francois Masuka, director of international student and faculty scholar services — works with, assists and supports international students full-time. Other staff support is only part-time.
Bill Burress, assistant director of international programs, said Elon’s international student support team is well-staffed compared to other universities. He also said he and his coworkers are attempting to increase the number of people working with international students, but adequate resources are still a problem.
Additionally, the programming Elon does provide for international students is usually internal, meaning most events are attended only by international students, without involvement from students from outside this community. This creates a bubble out of the international students’ population, a bubble in which they tend to only socialize with each other.
At a recent Student Government Association meeting, Associate Provost for Inclusive Community Brooke Barnett reaffirmed Elon’s goal to triple its international student population by the end of The Elon Commitment Strategic Plan in 2020.
But Burress said current resources still only allow for a limited expansion of opportunities for supporting this growing international population.
If Elon devotes more resources to helping the international students already at Elon feel supported and involved on campus, more international students will be interested in attending a U.S. institution that puts caring for its students before attracting new ones.
International students come to the United States to experience a new country, and they come to Elon for the opportunities it offers. The university should combine the two and offer international students the experience they expect to receive.