N.H. Draws More Foreign Students

Nashua — New Hampshire colleges and universities are attracting more foreign students as they try to cope with a decline in the number of home-grown high school graduates — including more students from Saudi Arabia, which has passed Canada as a source of post-secondary students in the Granite State.

But other states are attracting even more students, indicating ever-tightening competition among schools seeking to balance budgets. In fact, despite a 32 percent increase in enrolled foreign students over the past four years, New Hampshire is only average among states in terms of per-capita enrollment of foreign students, according to “Open Doors: Report on International Educational Exchange” by the Institute of International Education.

New Hampshire ranks 41st among all states and D.C. based on the number of foreign students attending college in the state, which ranks 42nd in population. In total, 3,095 international students attended New Hampshire institutes of higher education in the 2012-13 academic year, compared to 2,332 in 2009-10. Those students pump an estimated $81 million into the economy in tuition and other expenses last year, according to the Open Door report.

More than one-third of those students attended Dartmouth College, which had the most international students of any school in the state, a position it has held since the Institute’s first survey in 2010. Southern New Hampshire University in Hooksett and Manchester comes in second, easily outdrawing University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Higher education in the United States, and New England in particular, has long had an international draw.

As the world eases out of its recession, this draw is increasing: the report said the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by 7 percent to a record 819,644 students in the 2012-13 academic year.

Attracting international students is particularly important in New Hampshire and its New England neighbors, which face uphill demographic trends because of smaller families.

In New Hampshire, for example, the number of high school graduates peaked in 2007 and seems likely to decline through 2021, according to a study from the New Hampshire Department of Higher Education. The situation is even worse in Maine; the total enrollment in all public colleges in that state fell this year, leading to a scramble among state officials fearing deficits.

UNH, for example, has set a goal of having 10 percent of its student body come from other countries within the next five years and has hired Navitas, an Australian company, to recruit and prepare overseas students to attend the university.

Dartmouth’s top status in the state is understandable, given its Ivy League reputation and the fact that it was ranked as one of the 10 most generous schools in the country in terms of average financial aid given to international students, according to a report by the Chronicle for Higher Education.

The second-biggest foreign draw may be less obvious: Southern New Hampshire University. Ever year in the survey, it has more international students than UNH, which has about three times as many undergraduates on campus.

It’s unclear whether those figures include online-only students. SNHU is nationally known for its online degrees from the Center for Online and Continuing Education, operating out of the Manchester millyard, which has well over 10,000 students enrolled and a national reach.

Few other New Hampshire schools have had more than 100 foreign students over this time.

The surveys list only the five schools in each state with the most international students; New England College in Henniker made the 2013 list; other well-known New Hampshire schools, including Nashua’s two schools, Rivier University and Daniel Webster College, did not.

As was the case in most states, China sent the most students to New Hampshire, followed by India.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has vaulted past Canada, the previous No. 3 sending country to New Hampshire. Saudi Arabia sent 270 students to New Hampshire colleges in the 2012-13 academic year.

The report does not break down which schools are attended by students of which nationality.

As for a flip side of the equation — New Hampshire college students going overseas for a year — that figure is also increasing: 1,954 students spent a semester or two abroad in the 2011-12 school year, the most recent for which data is available, compared to 1,603 in 2007-08.