What is it about a little community college in Longview that could attract a student from one of the largest, most historic, most culturally diverse cities in the world?
Lower Columbia College’s small campus, friendly people and the opportunity to invest in his future, said freshman business major Berkan Basmergen, a native of Istanbul, Turkey.
“It’s going to look good on my resume and make me get a better job,” said Basmergen, one of four international students attending LCC this quarter. “My dream is playing basketball in college — and getting a really good education.”
The college expects to enroll two more foreign students in winter quarter — from Cameroon in west-central Africa — which would bring international enrollment to six. But within the next five years, LCC hopes to boost that number to 100.
That’s the goal of LCC’s International Program, which was recently revived in hopes of enriching the campus culture and increasing enrollment and revenues.
“We’re excited to build (the International Program) up again,” said the newly appointed program director Margit Brumbaugh. “There are lots of avenues for collaboration.”
‘A key initiative’
Foreign students have attended LCC since the 1950s, but always in small numbers. A 1964 Daily News story announced that LCC’s six international students — from Japan, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Iran and Sweden — swelled the “colony” to “twice as large as it’s ever been.”
During the last 12 years, the highest number of foreign students enrolled in any one quarter was nine.
But since 2005, increasing numbers of foreign students — particularly from China, India and Saudi Arabia — have been coming to other American colleges. Brumbaugh wants to bring LCC to their attention.
The International Program is adding services such as host families, intensive English instruction and guidance in adjusting to American daily life — “the things we take for granted that are so different,” Brumbaugh said.
She’s using her work-study student, Azmat Berdiyev — an immigrant from Turkmenistan — for perspective on how to best help international students adjust to America, learn the language and navigate the college system.
Through a partnership with Green River Community College near Seattle, which has the sixth-largest international program in the country, she hopes to bring in students from China and other countries. She left Wednesday for a weeklong tour of China’s Hanban Institute, where the Longview School District’s two Mandarin-language instructors came from.
“It’s a key initiative,” said LCC President Chris Bailey. “It’s important for a variety of reasons. It brings diversity to our campus ... and our community. Also, it gives us an opportunity to work with different cultures, and it’s a piece of our overall economic development as we work with the Pacific Rim.”
Bailey didn’t mention money, but Brumbaugh said both the college and the international students benefit financially. International students pay nonresident tuition, which is three times the in-state cost.
“They pay the highest tuition rate that we have, but that’s maybe a third of what they’d pay for a four-year university,” Brumbaugh said. “That’s one of the draws international students have to go to a community college.” Most international students take their core classes at the community college level, then transfer to a university, she said.
“It also gives them a transition period,” she said. “It’s an easier acclimation to America and the university system than going to a huge four-year campus.”
Brumbaugh tells potential international students that LCC’s costs are roughly $17,000 a year, including $9,000 tuition plus books, fees and housing. By comparison, Washington State University and the University of Washington charge about $29,000 a year just for nonresident tuition, she said. International students are not eligible for LCC scholarships or financial aid. One of the requirements for admission is documentation of their ability to cover all their expenses.
The extra revenue is a boon to the college, which lost 26 percent of its state funding between 2008-12 due to the recession.
Although “we had a huge spike in enrollment” early in the recession, student numbers have been dropping in the past couple of years, Brumbaugh said.
Local students needn’t fear being displaced if more foreign students come to campus, she said.
“There’s no risk of a seat going to an international student and not a local one,” she said.
Passing up free tuition
The international students now enrolled at LCC said they would rather come to America to study — and play sports — even though college education in their homelands is free.
“I chose this just because I wanted to play baseball,” said Koen Nooij, 21, a general studies major from the Netherlands, whose older brother also played baseball at LCC.
“I heard really positive things about the school,” said international business major Paul (Pavel) Jiránek, 19, of Prague, Czech Republic. “Basketball was always my dream when I was small, and we don’t have high school sports.”
Jiránek attended Vernonia High School as an exchange student last year and chose LCC so he could live in Rainier and remain near his high school host family. “With studying international business, I will have an edge over people who are just studying in their home country. This will help me a lot in the future in my job.”
“I always thought about coming here to the states to learn English and play better basketball,” said engineering major Jan Konig, 19. His hometown of Oldenburg, Germany, has 160,000 people, and Konig said he likes the small LCC campus and Longview community. “You know every place and how to get there,” he said. “It’s kind of comfortable.”
All of them said it’s easy to make friends in America.
“In class, people start talking to you,” Konig said. “They’re excited you’re from another country.”
Immigrant’s insight a plus
Brumbaugh’s work-study student, Berdiyev, immigrated with his parents in 2010. He said when potential international students ask him what he thinks about LCC, he praises the level of instruction, the well-equipped library and the quiet study environment.
“The teaching styles are advanced but the teachers think about the students, of giving information in a way they will understand easily,” said Berdiyev, 23, who is majoring in nursing and premedicine.
Berdiyev lived in Washington, D.C., and New York City before driving cross-country to settle in Kelso, where his family has friends. Besides the lower cost of living here, the scenery is the most beautiful he’s seen in America, he said.
“Plus, the ocean is very close, and there are a lot of parks around here for recreation,” he said.
“As we get more students it’s going to change the flavor of the college,” Brumbaugh said. “Having someone from a different country, with a different worldview adding to the conversation, makes a big difference in learning.”