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Enrollment trends up, VP says

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Students at International Orientation are welcomed to Fresno State. Photo by: Roe Borunda

This year’s enrollment and the large number of international students breaks the negative trend budget cuts inflicted on Fresno State in previous years, administrators said.

“This is the first time I’ve been positive and optimistic in the last four years where we’ve been cutting, and cutting and cutting,” said Bernie Vinovrski, the associate vice president for enrollment services.

Vinovrski attributed this step forward to Gov. Jerry Brown and California Legislature passing a budget on time, as well as to taxpayers for passing Proposition 30.

“I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train coming at us,” Vinovrski said.

Although the fall 2013 semester does have record high enrollment numbers, Vinovrski said those numbers are only a one percent increase from last year and met the university’s target goal. Overall enrollment increased by fewer than 200 students. Although the freshman class is the biggest it’s ever been, it only increased by a little more than 150.

The category of students that saw the most growth this year was transfers. Fresno State did not admit transfers in January of 2013, which left the number of transfer students low. This year, Vinovrski said there are more than 400 new transfer students.

Overall Fresno State did admit more students this year, but they also turned away thousands of students. There were more than 3,000 eligible first-time freshmen who were denied admission simply because there was no space for them at Fresno State, Vinovrski said.

These students were outside the university’s primary service area that covers five counties: Fresno, Madera, Kings, Kern and Tulare.

“Our primary obligation is to our current students,” Vinovrski said. “There has been an intense effort to manage enrollment as closely on target as possible.”

If Fresno State surpasses its target enrollment, there are steep financial consequences from the CSU Chancellor’s office, Vinovrski said. The university loses money when it brings in too many students, and classes are harder to obtain for students.

Because enrollment numbers only increased by one percent, Vinovrski said there will be the same number of courses offered as last year.

Vinovrski said more people that were accepted to Fresno State chose to attend, meaning Fresno State’s popularity is growing. This is especially evident with international students.

This year there are more than 500 degree-seeking international students from 40 different countries, said Paul Hofmann, the assistant vice president for international affairs. That is a 33 percent increase from last year.

“That is attributable to Dr. Hofmann and his recruitment initiatives and partnerships he forged. It’s wonderful news,” Vinovrski said.

Paul Yunouye, a faculty advisor for the International Student Services and Programs Office, said part of the recruitment effort included deans and faculty members going abroad to develop relations with different universities. He also said the International Affairs office pushed to be a part of more education fairs and worked with agents to get Fresno State’s name out to those who didn’t know about the university.

“It’s an exciting time of growth for the program,” Hofmann said.

International students come for programs that are popular among domestic students like business, computer science and engineering, Yunouye said. Most international students come from India, but the number of Chinese and Saudi Arabian students is rapidly catching up.

A lot of international students begin their education by studying exclusively in the American English Institute (AEI) before seeking a degree.

Yunouye said one of the biggest challenges is getting international and domestic students to interact.

“I try to find opportunities and develop programs and initiatives to help. You can bring students here, but unless you have great interaction and learning there’s no ‘internationalization,’” he said. “We’ve made a lot of effort in getting students to this campus. Research has showed it’s not enough bring them here, we need to really support them with services that will keep them here.”

One organization that attracts a lot of international students is the International Student Association. Makoto Saito, the group’s president, said it’s a way for international students to make friends.

Saito, an international student from Japan, attended a college in Japan that had a strong international transfer program, especially with Fresno State. He came to Fresno State in 2012 to study business and minor in Chinese.

“I didn’t expect there to be so many international students here so I was surprised,” he said.

Saito first heard about the International Student Association from his AEI program leader. He knew he wanted to be more involved on campus and decided to join. He soon became a committee member and helped at events. He found he was good at organizing social activities and soon became president of the organization.

Although Saito had no trouble making friends, he said many international students have concerns about interacting socially.

“Many international students speak different languages, and it’s hard to get used to things here. They left their friends and family. This is a good opportunity to make friends if you don’t know other people,” he said.

Hofmann’s recruitment efforts tie in with the university’s motto: “Discovery. Diversity. Distinction.”

“I’m exceptionally gratified because this is another form of diversity—geographic, cultural diversity from international people,” Vinovrski said.