UofA looking to bolster international student enrollment

Graduation Rates 1

By Lauren Randall

The Razorback Reporter

Graduation for international students at the UofA has fluctuated over the last five years. In 2014 the university had 57 international students graduate within the desired six-year graduation rate. That class had the highest number of graduating international students since 2005, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.

Last year the UofA had 1,527 international students enrolled during the fall 2014 semester and 3.7 percent of those students graduated from the university, according to OIR.

The UA Office of International Students and Scholars has worked to retain more first-year and full-time freshmen or cohorts to graduate from the UofA.

“Our retention rate, from first year to second year, is about 98 percent and it can go as low as 80 percent,” said Michael Freeman, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars.

“Our six-year graduation rate is at 74 percent,” he said.  For all UA enrollment, that rate is 62.5 percent for freshmen who enrolled in 2009, according to OIR.

International students are an important part of the UA community and they give local students at the UofA the opportunity to interact with students from other cultures across the globe, supporters of international study say.
“I think that our international students greatly enrich the American students that are here at the UofA,” said Cynthia Smith, assistant director for outreach programs for the office of international students and scholars. “It gives American students a chance to think about other parts of the world to interact with people from different cultures which will help them when they are in the business world.”

The number of graduating international students has fluctuated over the years.

“We would love to have a larger cohort. Most of undergraduate students come in as transfer students, so they have had some kind of college experience before they come here,” Freeman said.

UA international enrollment follows no set record of trends for countries, gender, background or major of international students graduating from the university, Freeman said.

The largest groups of undergraduate international students come from the Bolivia and Panama. Some of the students from those two areas likely are the majority of the 57 international students who graduated last year, Freeman said.

Senior Andres Sagarnaga, a chemical engineering major from Bolivia, is graduating in the spring. He plans to stay in Arkansas for a few years before he returns to Bolivia.

“I want to work there for two or three years to gain experience and it’s a nice place to launch my career as well as close to home,” Sagarnaga said. “I don’t see myself staying in the U.S. or Arkansas.”

Sagarnaga has done three internships in Bolivia, but wanted to take advantage of already being in the United States.  He has a job lined up with Georgia Pacific in Gurdon, Arkansas.

“My adviser told me I can always go back to Bolivia, but if I leave here I can’t come back,” Sagarnaga said.

Once international students graduate from the UofA they have a limited amount of time in the U.S., depending on what type of student visa they have. The university has policies regarding how international students are able to leave the United States after graduating.

International students who are considered non-immigrants who graduate from the UofA, have to inform the Office of International Students and Scholars. Otherwise they risk their student and exchange visitor information system record getting terminated, according to the Office of International Students and Scholars.

Students who have F-1 visas, non-immigrants, are able to stay in the United States 60 days after their last academic obligation, and J-1 students, who follow government regulations to go to school at the UofA, are able to stay in the United States 30 days after their last academic obligation, according to the Office of International Students and Scholars.

Some international students leave immediately after they graduate and others work for some time, as Sagarnaga plans.

Most international students who graduate from the university prefer to work in the U.S. for at least a year before going home, Freeman said.

“A lot depends on what is going on here and what is going on at home,” Freeman said. “Now that they have gotten an education here, they are fluent in English as well as their home language so they are very marketable then around the world with those two languages.

The Office of International Students and Scholars is working to recruit larger numbers of international students to stay all four years and graduate at the UofA.

“One of the challenges is to see if this is the right fit for them. Right up front we don’t want them to think they are in New York or L.A. that they are coming to; they are coming to a very safe place and a very welcoming community,” Freeman said. “Then your providing all that support for them all their four years, that is an effort that our office does try to make in making that student feel like they are a part of our community and that they want to graduate and get their name on the sidewalk.”