International student enrollment expected to boom at TTUTTU's new intensive English-language center opened in July and has grown already to more than 100 students.
Tech officials say the center's presence on campus is spurring a mini-population boom of prospective international students. Before the center opened, TTU often referred international students who needed English-as-a-second-language instruction to Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro or the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, both of which have intensive English language centers on campus.
"Over four years, I referred more than 1,500 students to other institutions," said Charles J. Wilkerson, director of TTU's Office of International Student Affairs.
TTU currently has 576 international students, and about 350 of those students are undergraduates.
"I have a feeling we're going to hit 1,000 by 2015 if not before," Wilkerson said. "I received 500 inquiries in one week recently. With FLS on campus, I'm getting at least 10-15 applications for admission a day."
Tech's English language center is operated by FLS International and opened July 5 with five students. The growth spurt to 100 students has surprised even Christy Harrison, center director.
Pasadena, Calif.-based FLS was the recent winning bidder of a contract to operate TTU's intensive English language program.
"I don't think the folks in Pasadena ever thought this would happen here," she said. FLS also has locations in California, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
"They have been shocked at the growth, and every day it continues," she said.
Harrison says international students in need of language instruction are attracted to TTU because of its location in a safe, small town and because of its selection of majors, especially in the business, engineering and science disciplines.
All classes are taught in English only and many students stay with host families to ensure that the immersion is a complete around-the-clock experience.
"Some students come here and speak absolutely zero English," Harrison said. "They get to be immersed in our campus and see what it's like. I know that this process works as far as attracting students here that would normally not know anything about Tech."
Wilkerson agrees, and said TTU stands to gain also from an overall trend in international student growth from China. According federal figures, the U.S. saw a 30 percent increase in Chinese student enrollment this year to 128,000 students – or about 18 percent of the total U.S. international student enrollment of more than 690,000.
"The U.S. is seeing a huge influx of Chinese students and I have a feeling in the next year Tennessee Tech is going to see at least 100 or more. Right now we've got about 50," he said.
The economic impact of international student enrollment is impressive. International students pay per semester out-of-state tuition and fees of about $9,500. By comparison, in-state tuition and fees total about $3,000 at Tech.
Those figures don't count the additional living expenses international students incur. According to a report from the Institute of International Education, the 6,155 international students currently attending colleges and universities in Tennessee spend $141.1 million a year for everything from rent and food to tuition and books.
To help address the expected growth of international student enrollment at TTU, the Office of International Student Affairs recently added Andrew Bleignier as immigration specialist.