TAMPA — Like other incoming freshmen, Huzzatun Iqra started to “freak out” as her first day at the University of South Florida approached.
That was understandable, considering she would be traveling alone to the other side of the globe from Chittagong, Bangladesh, to go to school.
But it turns out her nervousness was misplaced.
“One of the things that makes USF so interesting is that when I came here, I wasn't alone,” said Iqra, now a junior accounting major. “I wasn't the only one away from my country, or the one that stuck out in the crowd.”
Iqra and her fellow 2,925 international students could be considered the new faces of USF, which hopes to boost nonresident enrollment, including international enrollment, nearly 50 percent by the 2017-18 school year.
“We recognize full well that in order to deliver a high-quality and relevant education in the 21st century, we have an obligation to prepare our students to succeed in a more globally engaged world,” said Ralph Wilcox, USF's provost and executive vice president. “Growing the number of international students and growing the number of out-of-state students is all about enhancing the quality and relevance of education at the University of South Florida.”
It's a concept that's been tried before, Wilcox said. But USF's 2013-14 work plan, which projects university performance out five years, calls for full-time Florida resident enrollment to remain flat and decline slightly, from the 23,905 level recorded in 2012-13 to 22,747 in 2017-18. Full-time nonresident enrollment, meanwhile, is projected to grow from the 2,168 recorded in 2012-13 to 4,159 in 2017-18.
That's a positive development to Adhok Achar, who came to USF from Bangalore, India, to pursue a master's degree in electrical engineering.
“You meet a lot of people that share different backgrounds,” Achar said. “That's kind of nice — you are exposed to a lot of different cultures while you are studying. And that kind of relationship helps in seeing what other cultures expect of you.”
That's a valuable experience for a typical Floridian as well as the international student, Wilcox said.
“Our domestic students make friends with, participate in intramurals with, room with, share meals with students from other countries, and that is incredibly valuable and important,” he said.
“They dress different. They talk different. They pursue different religious faiths. That's the world in which we live today, and for us to somehow sell our students short by not exposing them to and providing them the opportunity to understand those cultural and global differences would be putting our own students at a disadvantage.”
Some of the nearly 3,000 international students at USF are in non-degree programs or attend INTO USF, a pathway program that helps prospective students adapt before enrolling.
And Wilcox insists those newcomers from out of state or other countries aren't displacing qualified Floridians. At a university with some 48,000 students across three campuses, “the numbers ... are a drop in the bucket.”
Nonresident students bring another benefit to USF — an economic one. While in-state tuition is about $6,400 a year, a nonresident pays about $17,300. Residents pay $10,400 at the graduate level; nonresidents, $21,100.
Wilcox recently told members of USF's faculty senate that a round of cutbacks at the university would be softened by an unprojected spike in nonresident enrollment this fall.
Nonetheless, he said USF's international push was “never driven by budget, but driven by a strategy to deliver a world-class education for all of our students.”
The supportive atmosphere at USF has international students Iqra and Achar raving about their experience in Tampa.
“I can't see myself anywhere else,” Iqra said. “There's so many opportunities here, there's so much support, so many resources.”
Achar said his experience has far surpassed his expectations. “It's been amazing so far,” he said. “I love being at USF.”