International admissions rise as university boosts overseas recruiting

After five years of declining enrollment, the number of international students at PNW is again rising. 

A preliminary census completed in January shows the unofficial international population at PNW is 359 students, an increase of more than 36% since the fall of 2022, when the university had just 263 international students. 

“This spring, we have 28 that started as new students and 21 of them are freshmen,” said Julie Wiejak, executive director of Undergraduate Admissions. “We’re really excited to see if we can … just keep growing the population.”

Wiejak acknowledged that international enrollment was hurt by rocky relationships the U.S. had with several nations during President Donald Trump’s administration. 

“We used to have [sponsorship] agreements with countries where their governments would pay for their students to come here,” she said. “A bunch of the … countries … did not want their students coming to study in a country where they didn’t agree with what the president was doing.” 

During the 2016-17 school year, PNW had 756 international students. By 2020, the number had dropped by 37%, to 476. When COVID-19 hit, international enrollment continued to drop.

PNW is working to boost international student enrollment by working with more than 30 organizations around the world that recruit students for several universities. 

“They’re like our boots on the ground in the countries that we are interested in recruiting from,” said Wiejak. “They’ve worked for us and a bunch of other U.S. and Canadian institutions to help students access education [overseas].”

The university is targeting students in key markets. 

“Right now, India is number one and China is two [nations that subsidize international studies for their students, typically called ‘exporting’ students],” Wiejak said. “We have a lot of great relationships with people who export students from these new countries.” 

And PNW seeks to build on relationships that already exist.

“We’re looking at relationships with Nepal and Vietnam and Bangladesh,” said Wiejak. “We have seven new Bangladeshi students on campus, so going to Bangladesh again is valuable because we know Bangladeshi students are already here. They’re happy, they love what they’re studying, their families are happy that they’re doing well here. Going to that country helps us say ‘we already have seven new Bangladeshi that are thriving like wouldn’t you love to send your student here’.”  

Faculty members are helping in the recruiting efforts, visiting different countries to meet with recruiters and prospective students. 

“We have Dean [Niaz] Latif and the Associate Dean Mohammed Zahraee [from the College of Technology] going to India for us in the next couple weeks,” she said. “Last year we had a faculty member go to Nigeria … Kuwait, Saudi, India.” 

PNW’s big draw for international students is its expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are highly valued in many nations. 

“International students are interested in STEM fields,” Wiejak said. “Some countries will not let their students go international unless they study a certain type of major.” 

Also attractive is PNW’s location in northwest Indiana. 

“We have two international airports within driving distance,” she said. “Being 30 minutes from the third largest city in the country is very important to international students.”

Ryan Hayes, assistant director of international admissions and immigration services, agrees with Wiejak.

“We have a thriving metropolitan campus located in NWI, in close proximity to Chicago,” he said. “Situated close to Lake Michigan makes PNW an attractive location.”

Finally, the students like PNW’s affordability.  

“When countries export students, they want a tuition price point that’s under $20,000 and that works for us,” Wiejak said. “A lot of schools don’t offer scholarships to international students. We [do]… as it is a population that we are intentionally recruiting.” 

Sai Harini Akkineni, an Indian graduate student in Computer Science, found her way to PNW. 

“I chose PNW because it has this Purdue brand name and costs less compared to other universities and offers good programs,” Akkineni said. “I graduated late due to COVID and the deadline for most of the universities, I missed them. PNW was the only university which I didn’t miss the deadline [for]. 

“I wasn’t sure about the university because it wasn’t on the ranking … then I came to PNW,” she said. “This is a place where I feel shiny, more outgoing. … I can never dream of me in another university except for PNW.”

Jayanth Dev, a sophomore majoring in Accounting and Marketing, picked PNW for similar reasons. 

“I am from India, Bangalore … I heard about PNW first while applying to colleges throughout America and I applied for Purdue,” Dev said. “When I was browsing, it showed up that it has these other campuses, so I was curious. I thought Northwest would be better because Chicago is close by… and it’s a lot cheaper than West Lafayette.”

The administration feels students like Dev and Akkineni are an important addition to the student body.

“[They] bring so much knowledge and culture and experience to our campus,” said Wiejak. “You learn a bunch about yourself by experiencing something different. … We want students from everywhere. When everyone’s together, it makes for such a cool interaction for our students. … It’s differences where you really can learn and grow and be inspired.”