It’s no secret that Wingate attracts many students who live near its Union County campus. It is Greater Charlotte’s most popular private school by enrollment, and just over half of Wingate’s students are from North Carolina. But one of the fastest growing groups of students is the University’s international population, with enrollment from those outside the United States more than doubling from 2020 to 2022.
This fall, Wingate welcomes 221 international students from 54 countries. This number includes 132 former students and 89 new students. Four out of five are athletes, and the most popular countries of origin are Germany, Spain, the UK, Sweden and Denmark.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in applications from international students,” says Jennifer Armentrout, the University’s Executive Director of Global Engagement. “We have 35 requests for the spring, which is three times more than usual at this time of year.”
The rise in international registrations is not unique to Wingate. According to the Spring 2022 Snapshot of International Educational Exchange from the Institute of International Education, 65% of institutions reported an increase in international student applications for the 2022/23 academic year. But the IIE also calls the increase a “rebound” from dismal 2020 numbers, in which the Covid pandemic caused a 15% decline across the country. This decline has not happened at Wingate, at least not to this point.
Wingate’s 2020 incoming international class was down 4% from 2019. The following fall saw an 85% increase in international enrollees.
Armentrout attributes a number of factors to the growth, not the least of which is the recent addition of women’s triathlon to the University. She suspects the Covid lockdowns that prevented students from leaving their home countries may have created pent-up demand, so when travel restrictions were lifted the numbers rose.
She also says that Wingate’s newest Gateway Scholarship, available to students who have earned their associate’s degree at Central Piedmont Community College, has attracted international students looking to complete their bachelor’s degree. Another factor in the increase in applications may be that Wingate now participates in the Common Application, a one-stop shop for prospective students to easily submit the same application to multiple institutions.
National and world events also influence the number of international students seeking to study in the United States, as does the political climate.
“Different administrations create more welcoming or less welcoming environments for international students,” says Armentrout. “When uncertainty is created about whether students will be able to stay in the country or not, it makes it much more difficult for them. For example, it was a very tense time when Covid sent everyone online, as student visas have strict requirements for in-person classes.
Even now that Wingate has returned to offering a much more traditional in-person format, some courses are hybrid or include an online portion which may make them less desirable for international students who must comply with the rules or risk having their visa revoked.
Armentrout and Danielle Nook, Assistant Director of International Programs, spend much of their time helping students and new grads ensure they are in compliance. In addition to the 221 students in class on two campuses, they also serve nearly a dozen recent graduates who work off-campus through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, an F-1 visa that allows students with certain degrees work in the United States for up to three years.
“It increases our workload, but it’s a good opportunity for our students, because getting a work visa is more difficult than working on a student visa,” says Armentrout. It should determine whether the type of work a graduate is pursuing is directly related to their program of study. If it is not considered as such, they are not allowed to work on their student visa.
Armentrout says a growing number of international students are applying for temporary protected status or other programs designed to help those fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries.
“We’re trying to support these students in a way that we’ve never seen before,” she says. “Not only is Covid causing problems, but there are just more displaced people in the world, with wars and natural disasters. We have students affected by the Russian-Ukrainian war, and economic crises in countries like Haiti and Venezuela have made it difficult for students in those areas to access their own money.
Despite the challenges of coming to study in the United States, Armentrout says most international students seem happy with their decision.
“Wingate is very welcoming to international students,” she says. “I’ve never heard an international student say they didn’t feel welcome.”
Last spring’s Bulldog poll showed that more than four in five international respondents said they felt “welcome and respected” at the University.
Armentrout says their presence on campus helps his office in its goal of providing an authentic global perspective to all students.
“We strive to cultivate courage, connection and curiosity in everyone we serve,” she says.
Wingate’s Office of International Programs will be celebrating International Education Week November 14-18 with full programming.