Strike up a conversation with a group of Warren Wilson College graduates and internationalism is bound to come up. For many alumni, meeting people from all over the world was, at one time, a substantial part of being a Warren Wilson College student. The College’s international student population was approximately 25 percent of the student body in 1975, hovered around 9 percent throughout the 1980s and averaged 6 percent in the ’90s. Since 2005, roughly 3 percent of enrolled students list another country as home.
“Alumni often tell me stories about Warren Wilson College once being called ‘the little United Nations,’” said President Lynn Morton. “It’s time we take our cue from that era and launch an initiative that will help us build a stronger global identity. I’m pleased to announce our renewed effort to recruit and enroll students from other countries.”
The Office of International and Intercultural Opportunities is expanding. In addition to outbound international experiences for the student body, the office will now spearhead a new global recruiting effort. Luckily, many of the existing scholarships were created because of the impact of the “little U.N.” days on students. Alumni and friends of the College who experienced that atmosphere philanthropically put in place endowed funds. Those earnings provide financial assistance for international students in perpetuity.
“When President Morton arrived, she noticed how decentralized our transnational efforts had become,” said Anna Welton, director of international and intercultural opportunities at Warren Wilson College. “We worked together to centralize the office to include international services, recruiting and outbound study abroad. It’s becoming a one-stop shop for all things international on campus and is focused on reinvigorating that part of the College’s identity.”
In addition to maintaining successful efforts through study abroad courses and the creation of opportunities for exchange students, the Office of International and Intercultural Opportunities is setting enrollment goals. Initially, Welton hopes to admit three to five new students in the first year and five to seven in the second, reflecting the realities of the competitive international recruitment landscape. To help with the effort, Morton has allocated funding for a second full-time employee within the office.
Warren Wilson College is not alone in its push for a multinational student body.
Since 2011, the number of international students studying in the United States has increased by roughly 40 percent, according to the Institute of International Education. A 2017 survey by the American Council on Education shows “U.S. institutions are expanding their internationalization efforts.” The report found 29 percent of surveyed colleges and universities see “’very high’ or ’high’ levels of international activity within their respective institutions, as opposed to the 21 percent who indicated the same during ACE’s last mapping effort in 2011.”
Junior Nirmal de Alwis, a native of Sri Lanka double-majoring in outdoor leadership and psychology, sees promise in the new program.
“It would be nice to increase the international student community,” de Alwis said. “I strongly believe that having the international perspective on campus is valuable for education.”
A challenge for any school is ensuring international students have the time to adjust to American culture. While extra attention is focused on preparations for campus life, there are other things to consider. de Alwis believes the College must help all international students navigate U.S. immigration processes and regulations.
As Welton begins recruiting students, she is already focusing on the barriers to entering the country.
“That’s a major component of this new effort. We don’t want to encourage anyone to come to Warren Wilson College and then leave them on their own to navigate the visa process, for example. We want them here, and we’ll do everything we can to simplify the process,” Welton explained.
The College will officially launch the effort in early December.
“We’re hosting a big event that is intended to celebrate the international identity of our college – past, present and future. It’s meant to be a kick-off event to this increased effort toward internationalizing our campus, particularly our effort to recruit more international students. We’re inviting all current international students, visiting and permanent international faculty, international staff members and all of our international alumni who still live in the region,” she added.
Donors who have helped endow international scholarships are also invited to the celebration, which is officially called “The Global Gathering.” Welton hopes it will become an annual event that will serve as a way to generate support for the new initiative. Support, Welton said, could be anything from organizing a high school visit to serving as a host family for recruiters internationally.