ST. LOUIS — INTERNATIONAL students like Alvaro Rosabal of Costa Rica are becoming as commonplace at American colleges as book bags and Birkenstocks.
For good reason.
To foreigners, United States campuses represent a chance to get a top-grade education. For colleges like Maryville University in St. Louis, where Mr. Rosabal attends, international students mean more diversity on campus - and money in the till.
``There's no question that international students are attractive to schools because they bring in additional revenues,'' says Liga Abolins, director of International Programs at Maryville.
Most foreign students are not eligible for financial aid, and 65 percent pay all tuition and fees themselves. As a result, many colleges today are as likely to recruit in Kuwait and Caracas as in Connecticut.
The US Department of Commerce ranks college education as the nation's fifth-largest export. Last year, foreign students spent more than $6 billion for tuition, room, and board.
Mr. Rosabal, like many foreign students, was attracted by American universities' reputation as world leaders in higher education. ``If you graduated from a school here and know English, you can get a very good job in my country,'' says the full-paying computer major. @bodytextdrop =
LAST year, nearly 450,000 international students attended college in the United States, according to a new report from the Institute for International Education (IIE).
The number of foreign students coming to the US has nearly tripled in two decades. In contrast, just over 70,000 American students studied abroad in 1991-92, the last academic year surveyed.
In the last few years, international recruitment has skyrocketed. ``Undoubtedly, US institutions are stepping up their recruitment efforts,'' says Todd Davis, director of research at IIE. ``I would suspect that some of the increase is due to this heightened recruitment.''
Linden Educational Services in Bethesda, Md., which leads international recruitment trips for college officials, is more than filling six trips this year. ``We're turning away more colleges all the time,'' says Linda Heaney, president of the company.
Students from Asian countries represent nearly 60 percent of all foreign students in the United States. Yet college recruiters have started traveling to previously uncharted territory, such as the Middle East and Latin America.
Norma King, director of International Student Services at the University of Denver, just returned from a two-week trip to the Middle East. ``Internationalization is a big buzzword on campuses right now,'' she says. ``We're trying to increase our diversity just like anyplace else.''
``The reception is good,'' she says of students in the Middle East. ``There's great eagerness to study in the US. In a lot of these countries, there are not enough spaces in their own universities.''
WORLDWIDE competition for foreign students has increased dramatically in the past five years, Ms. King says. Starting this fall, the University of Denver began offering four full-tuition, four-year scholarships for international students.
While most college officials admit that foreign students are attractive because they help balance the budget, there are also costs involved in hosting international students.
Extra counselors and advisers have to be hired as the international student population grows. Some students need English instruction to survive in the typical American classroom. In many cases, foreign students need housing during the holidays.
``It is people in positions like mine that make sure the university matches services with international students so they are not just seen as moneymakers,'' adds University of Denver's King.
``Often the needs of international students are very different,'' says Dan Carey, vice president for student development at St. Louis University. ``Even with food service, for example. They need more international cuisine.''
The number of foreign students in the US is now at an all-time high. But the rate of increase dropped from 4.5 percent to 2.5 percent this year. After a decade of decreasing numbers of high school graduates, American demographics are beginning to shift. There is a projected increase in college-age Americans beginning next year.
Will more eligible American college students cause schools to reduce overseas recruitment? ``I used to think so,'' says Ms. Heaney of Linden Educational Service. ``But I don't anymore. I think it's too good a deal.''