UHCL's international student enrollment rises: 'We feel welcome'
The number of international students studying at American colleges or universities fell sharply in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but University of Houston-Clear Lake's international student enrollment is rising and expected to continue increasing, says Johna McClendon, UH-Clear Lake's director of International Admissions and Student Services.
"We've seen a 60% increase in international student enrollment since 2018, which does fall into the pandemic time," McClendon said. "In fall 2020, we had only 347 international students, which was attributable to the pandemic, but by fall 2021, we were already up to 588 students. Our numbers for 2022 aren't in yet, but we are projecting at minimum a 5% increase in enrollment."
McClendon said UH-Clear Lake was the academic home of students from 43 countries, most from India, Vietnam, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and China. Most students are seeking graduate degrees.
"Our international student retention rate is also something to be proud of," she said. "In fall 2018, 91% of our international students completed a year and stayed. Most graduate students are done with their degree after the second year, so our retention rate is 15%, which represents those still not complete with their master's degree, or undergraduate students."
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, McClendon said retention rates were still very high. "After one year, we retained 83% of our international students, and 24% after the second year," she said. "And in fall 2021, we enrolled 310 brand new students to UHCL."
She said there are many reasons why UHCL is such an attractive choice for students from other countries. "We offer many scholarships, and we have many opportunities for teaching assistantships, graduate assistantships, and on-campus employment, which makes us much more affordable," she said. "There are so many student support services available that also attribute to the success of our international students. And our high level of academics and variety of experiential learning opportunities also make us very appealing to international students."
Aashka Sheth, who arrived from India in spring 2021, is pursuing her Master of Science in Exercise and Health Sciences. She said that when she was still in India, she was looking for good American graduate programs in her field and found UHCL.
"I saw the list of faculty in the program here and, that's where I read that (Assistant Professor of Exercise and Health Sciences) Kirk English had so much experience in human performance at NASA," she said. "And (Associate Professor of Exercise and Health Sciences) Bill Amonette had been a strength and conditioning coach for the Chinese national basketball team. I was very impressed and I thought, if I worked with professors like this, I can get exposure to such possibilities, too."
Sheth said she'd had very little difficulty easing into life at UHCL. "There is a lot of support here for international students," she said. "The first contact you have is with the Office of International Admissions and Programs, which assigns you an advisor who is very helpful. They guide you every step of the way with getting the documents and how to check in when you get here."
Additionally, Sheth said the regularly-scheduled events planned by various student organizations and offices helped her integrate into the international student community as well as with domestic students. "There are so many events, and now I am on the ISAB as well," she said. "I started out with an on-campus job as a student diplomat in the OIAP, and now I work at the Student Enrollment Center, which helps me meet more people and become active in the community. The job and going to the events are a bit part of the process to get integrated."
McClendon said students will also become part of a "global buddy system," in which they are connected to a domestic student who will help them get acclimated. "We do a lot to help students with the transition from their home country to UHCL," she said. "We believe the support we offer has a lot to do with our increasing enrollment and our high retention rates."
Sheth said she would advise prospective students that UHCL would be a very good choice to begin their American academic journey. "Everyone here is very helpful, and the professors are friendly and approachable. Those of us who are here have made a lot of friends and because they make every effort here to make us feel welcome, we have never felt out of place.
For more information about UHCL's Office of International Admissions and Student Services, go online.