Vickers addresses international concernsInternational students are like vegetables. Some people like them a lot and some less so.
By: Christinia Crippes, The Dickinson Press
Third in a series
DICKINSON - International students are like vegetables. Some people like them a lot and some less so.
Dickinson State University President Dr. Lee Vickers would argue, though, that vegetables and international students are good for people and will continue to be a part of a healthy campus diet.
After hearing a group of students on campus raise concerns about the international student population, Vickers said there are always conflicts when a university moves forward.
Vickers recently sat down with The Dickinson Press to respond to the group’s concerns.
“The university is a microcosm of society,” Vickers said. “If we look right now at the issues across society, there are issues between cultures, between the peoples of various nations. That’s to be expected, and part of the reason we go to college is to learn how to deal with issues of that nature.”
As the international student population has blossomed from a handful to approximately 350, Vickers said the university expected to hear concerns and questions. Vickers said many higher education articles share stories of other universities trying to build their international programs.
“I’m proud and pleased that we’re doing this,” Vickers said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be concerns and issues because of cultural differences. That’s what we’re here for, is to help students understand how you resolve these issues and concerns.”
He said while the university does a reasonably good job of handling issues, it can always do more.
A global society
Vickers said one important reason to continue with the initiative is every facet of society is becoming global.
Within the last three months, solely within the western region of the United States, Vickers said he experienced a number of incidents where he saw the world as a global society.
He used one example of stopping for coffee at a Starbucks in Berkeley, Calif.
“It was like being in the United Nations,” Vickers said. “I must say I felt a sense of pride, because too, in a relative sense, obviously to a lesser degree, you go in our coffee shop in our library, or if you go into the student union, you get some of the same flavor.”
Vickers said some people are more comfortable in an environment with people of different nations than others, but it behooves the university to offer the opportunity to experience globalization firsthand.
“Part of the learning how to learn is learning how to learn in situations where…it isn’t necessarily ideal. So if you have students from other cultures or other countries, there may be legitimate concerns as they’ve articulated,” Vickers said. “On the other hand, I would say the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.”
Vickers agreed with the students that the university needs more education on every level about the global awareness initiative, including during orientation sessions.
“Do I discuss it in great depth? Perhaps not in as much depth as I should, but I think it’s brought up,” Vickers said. “I meet, each year, before the school year, with the residence halls directors…and I make a point of talking about the global awareness initiative to them, and the importance of it.”
He said a number of articles explain how the international population enriches the learning environment.
“The students that are here from the 33 countries benefit and learn from students in all those countries; and we, the students from North Dakota hosting those students, learn from them, so it’s a win-win situation for all concerned,” Vickers said.
As for students sticking to their national cliques, Vickers said it’s only natural for people to stay close to that with which they’re most familiar.
“Is that a concern? Absolutely,” Vickers said. “I talked with the students coming in about that very thing. There were, I believe, nine students from California who were all seated together, I suggested to them as soon as possible, they should all change tables.”
While Vickers agrees there can always be more programs to get international and United States students to integrate, he believes DSU Multicultural Affairs Director Thy Yang does a good job.
“I guess one of the challenges I would issue to the students that are raising these questions is in addition to raising the questions, which I appreciate, what are they doing to correct some of the concerns that they’ve identified?” Vickers said.
He said to some extent, the intermingling is already happening in dorms, but the American students as a whole could be making a better effort to introduce themselves.
Vickers would like to see the university begin to focus on getting more U.S. students to study abroad.
“On the one hand, I understand when someone says they can’t afford to go,” Vickers said. “On the other hand, part of what I hear them saying is it’s not a priority.”
Getting the initiative
Vickers said the international students receive a scholarship with the same Test of English as a Foreign Language score as it takes to get into the university. He said, though, those students have to demonstrate they are academically sound and that they are solid citizens.
He said the TOEFL score is not foolproof. Vickers said if there are 10 students from a particular country, they would have 10 different levels of English proficiency; however, he said the same is true of U.S. students. Vickers also said the same is true of concerns such as manners and rudeness.
He also cleared up some misunderstandings about the money foreign students receive.
“American students are eligible for all of the federal aid, which would include the Pell grants, the Stafford loans, loans of various types, as well as a number of scholarships that are available to American students that are not available to international students,” Vickers said. “International students, in most cases, are granted a global awareness scholarship, which means that their total costs are slightly lower than in-state residents of North Dakota.”
Vickers said other countries might provide aid to their students, but no students that he is aware of are receiving any foreign financial aid to attend school at DSU.
He said without providing the scholarship, DSU might become cost prohibitive for the students. He also said it’s a way to encourage more international students to attend.
“We are making a concerted effort to attract more students from our immediate region, that would be Dickinson and a radius of 150 miles; we’re making a concerted effort to recruit more students from our major area; we’re also implementing strategies to recruit more students from Montana, Wyoming and Colorado,” Vickers said.
He said there are also special initiatives to recruit from Nevada, California and Washington.
Vickers said the university also continues to grow its extended campus programs, which often attracts adult learners and other non-traditional students.
“The research shows that’s one area where North Dakota is really lacking, but the research would also show that Dickinson State University might be doing the best job in the state in that particular regard, and that needs to be a continuing effort,” Vickers said.
Vickers said while he also expects to grow the international population, he doesn’t have a specific target for the university to reach.
He said it’s also important to note international students bring in an average of $16,713 a year per person to the state’s economy.
Despite the growth, Vickers said campus housing isn’t a concern. While the university is 50-100 students shy of being at capacity, Vickers said currently the institution requires freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. He said that requirement could be changed to give students an option and potentially open more space.
“I would certainly like to have that challenge, but there are some options,” Vickers said.
Vickers also sees benefits to the community and the university in the end.
“We certainly have examples of students in other countries who are sharing their positive views about DSU with potential students, so they’re giving back in that way,” Vickers said.
He said as part of the World Voices programs, many international students go into K-12 classrooms to give local students a taste of their native culture.
“I am confident that over time, these students will be as likely to give back financially as students who are from the more immediate area,” Vickers said. “In some respects, the value of their experience might be even greater for the international students than for some of the students who perhaps take more for granted.”
He said because those students invest more in getting here, it’s a different situation for them.
“It’s difficult and not wise to paint with too broad a brush, but by and large, they sincerely value the opportunity they’re getting at Dickinson State University,” Vickers said.