Colleges welcome islander diversity
Last October, the University of the Ozarks hired a new assistant vice president of advancement…
Last October, the University of the Ozarks hired a new assistant vice president of advancement and enrollment from a private university in Florida.
And with him came relationships with education connections in the Bahamas. Thanks to those contacts, the private Clarksville university has nearly 30 Bahamian students this fall, said Reggie Hill, its assistant vice president, and the Bahamian government is looking to send more.
The university at the time was three years into a goal of doubling its international student population from 60 to 120 — reflecting at least 20 different nationalities — by 2018. It surpassed that goal with 130 international students this fall and couldn’t take in any more Bahamian students, President Richard Dunsworth said.
“We wanted the diversity to be dispersed,” he said. “We didn’t want any one country to overload our population.”
But maybe other schools in Arkansas could help, said Dunsworth, chairman of the president’s council of Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities.
That thought brought Monique Hinsey, an educational consultant with the Bahamas’ Ministry of Education, to Arkansas late last month to tour campuses of other private universities. The country of nearly 400,000 has traditionally sent its students to study abroad because, until last year, it had only one community college in Nassau, she said.
Well over 1,000 students go abroad annually with about 75 percent heading to the United States, many to Florida, she said. The government spends between $15 million and $20 million annually for higher education, including providing scholarships for its students to study locally and abroad, she said.
Most recently, the Bahamian government started the Public School Scholars Program to encourage more of its public-school graduates to continue on to postsecondary education. The program, which provides scholarship opportunities, started after government officials learned that less than 7 percent of its public school graduates were going on to higher education, Hinsey said.
Through the program, education officials begin informing 10th-grade students of the opportunities in higher education and travel, seeking out partnerships with other colleges and universities.
Now, in its fourth year, the program not only provides those avenues, but it also hands out partial scholarships for Bahamians studying abroad and diversifies other countries’ campuses. Hinsey said she expects about 175 students to vie for scholarships in its fourth cycle.
The Bahamian government understands education’s role in economics, she said.
“We are a very young country, 43 years,” she said. “And if we are going to continue to build and expand the countries, we have to make an investment in education. Being such a young nation, we have to diversify our career needs. We are very strategic in our efforts to get some programs that these students need to tap into. We need a number of specialized technical fields: we need more environmentalists, we need more engineers, we need more specialists as a whole, we need more speech therapists, specialized educators.”
At the end of the day, she said, it’s about job creation.
“It’s an issue that we have in our country where you’re producing college-educated students, but not producing enough jobs in a timely manner to fulfill the students,” she said. “We’re not alone in this. You have a movement of people who are going where the jobs are. When you look at what has happened in the Caribbean in recent years, you’re talking about economic hardships, fighting to come out of a recession, multiple hurricanes — over the past three or four years, we’ve had hurricane after hurricane — which has all impacted the economy.
“We try our best to provide as many opportunities as possible.”
In Arkansas, the nationality is far from being the most highly represented, according to a 2016 report from the Institution of International Education. The group, which is set to release its 2017 report next week, said of the 5,665 international students in Arkansas, most are from India (18.9 percent), China (14.3 percent) and Saudi Arabia (12.5 percent).
The majority attend public schools, with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville leading the pack, followed by Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, according to the report.
Hinsey was unable to visit all of the private colleges and universities during that week, but she attended a conference with representatives from all the independent schools. From there, Hinsey has been in discussions with Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Harding University in Searcy, John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge, Lyon College in Batesville and Central Baptist College in Conway.
Many of the university leaders say a diverse student body is important because it exposes students to an increasingly multinational economy. Some Arkansans can’t travel, or studying abroad for a semester or a year is “too far a leap,” Dunsworth, the Ozarks president, said.
“If I only experience international students from one continent, it might narrow my understanding or narrow my worldview,” he said. “But, if I am exposed to 30 states in North America, plus other countries in Central America, it continually broadens a person’s worldview.”
Companies — whether it’s a high school just down the road or whether it’s a Fortune 500 company — are becoming more global, Dunsworth said. On children’s playgrounds, three, four or five different languages can be heard.
“We want to make sure our alums and graduates are prepared for that global experience, even if it’s 3 miles away at a local high school,” he said. “It’s to give them a competitive advantage in the workplace.”
A diverse student body makes for a more engaging, challenging environment, said Dakota Doman, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at Philander Smith College.
For many students, college is their first time away from home, and they’ve likely had one type of experience in their 18 years, he said. Diversity will help them learn about other things and build a more educated citizenry all together, he said.
Philander Smith had been planning to send recruiters to the Bahamas this year, as it has done in the past, he said, adding the valedictorian of the school’s graduating class last year was from the Bahamas. After the October conference, Philander Smith connected with Hinsey, and they have been exchanging emails ever since.
“I’m very optimistic about the partnership that we would form,” he said.
Of the Arkansas private schools, Williams Baptist is thought to have the longest-standing relationship with the Bahamas, stretching back to the mid-1990s, also because of certain contacts, the school said. One of its first Bahamian students was Brooks Russell, who is now an assistant administrator for advancement at Community Christian School in Russellville.
Through the years, Russell said he saw the number of Bahamian students ebb and flow.
“I think with most small schools, it goes in phases,” he said. “So you know, you bring in four or five students. They’re all in there together. They leave and then you wait, you may get one or two and then you may get four or five again.”
He added competition has increased: Bahamian students have more access to education now than in the mid-1990s, he said.
Russell worked for Williams Baptist as a soccer coach after he graduated from the university and afterward went back to the Bahamas. Since he came back, the university has discussed with him the possibilities of recruiting students from not only the Bahamas but also the Caribbean in general, he said.
“So then the University of the Ozarks, they gave an olive branch to many colleges in the area to help increase their enrollment,” Russell said. “I’m totally excited about this program the Bahamas is putting together. I truly believe it will make an impact on many families and give them the opportunity to higher education in a country that many people forget is third world.”
NW News on 11/13/2017
Colleges welcome islander diversity