When President Steven B. Sample steps down in August, he’ll undoubtedly be remembered for his focus on USC’s international presence and for dramatically increasing the number of international students at the university.
Earlier this week, it was announced that USC, once again, hosts more international students than any other university in the United States — a mark the school first reached under Sample’s leadership eight years ago.
“It’s become more important since Sample has been president, but the tradition goes back much further,” said Adam Powell, USC’s vice provost for globalization. “In the first class in 1880, there was a student from Japan. You could argue that from the very first class, USC was already well ahead of the curve.”
USC hosted 7,842 international students last year. Indian students made up the largest population, followed by Chinese students.
Under Sample’s guidance, USC has seen a large increase in the number of students from the Pacific Rim, and its reputation there has drastically improved.
Sample said having a large international populations helps foster a multicultural environment and provides a better learning experience — not only for the students from overseas, but for domestic students as well.
“I think we might well be the dominant military power, scientific, cultural power, but [that’s] not uncontested and not unchallenged, so that’s one reason I think its so important for our domestic students to go to college with a lot of international students,” Sample said. “We’re not doing it for the international students, we’re doing it for our own, because Americans are the most provincial people of any industrial nation in the world.”
Powell said USC has been able to grow its international population because of its burgeoning reputation and alumni network abroad, both fostered by Sample.
“We’re finding, every August, a couple of things that are new. Parents and even grandparents are dropping off their sons and daughters. We have second, third generation Trojans from the Middle East, from Europe, from the Pacific Rim,” Powell said. “We have a huge Trojan family overseas, and this begins to spread the word of how good the USC experience is.”
USC’s active recruitment abroad helps create both interest and awareness among international students.
Matthew Leung, a sophomore majoring in business and executive director of Undergraduate Student Government’s Program Board’s International Student Assembly, is a citizen of Hong Kong. He wanted to go to college abroad, and looked at schools in the United States as well as the United Kingdom, but said USC’s active recruitment pushed him to come here.
“USC is special in that they have a lot of offices around the world, and an office in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong recruitment team came to my school, and if it weren’t for that office, I wouldn’t know about USC,” he said. “It’s pretty well known in foreign countries compared to other schools. Basically USC has a better reputation abroad.”
Domestic students said having a large international population adds to their experience at USC.
Haley Batis, a sophomore majoring in business administration, went to Beijing for the Marshall School of Business’s Global Leadership Program, and said she met a lot of USC’s international students while on the trip.
“By having a large international community on campus it is promoting a stronger work ethic and creates greater competition,” Batis said.
Cameron Mabrie graduated from USC last year with a degree in political science, and is now at UC Berkeley for law school. He said international students that were in his classes offered a different educational perspective.
“They often presented an interesting perspective on issue and topics,” Mabrie said. “In classes where political systems were studied, it was interesting to see their views on our system in comparison to their country’s system.”
Some, however, say the growing number of international students may not be all positive, because of the economic implications — some say international students take resources away from domestic students, only to return to their home country.
“The idea is that they’re just using us to get an education, then using their skills to better the businesses in their country,” Batis said.
Powell points to post-9/11 security and visa regulations as a major deterrent to students staying in the United States upon graduation.
“It’s really a loss. Patents, artistry — so much of the strength of the US, including economically, has been due to men and women who come to the US for education and then stay,” Powell said. “Increasing numbers of students do return home. Governments around the world are encouraging students, with significant financial and other incentives, to return home from the US after their degree.”
Leung said, however, he doesn’t foresee obtaining a visa as being a challenge for him, at least, because of embassy aid and good relationships. He’s unsure of where he’ll go when he graduates, but for reasons not unlike those that domestic students consider.
“I don’t know, it depends on where I get a decent job,” Leung said.