Nearly three years ago, some skeptics doubted Community College Chancellor Philip Westin when he plunked down $300,000 to start an experimental program increasing the number of international students.
But the decision to transfer Oxnard College President Elise Schneider to a new job as the program's provost and pay her more than $100,000 annually to travel around the globe has proved a sound investment for the Ventura County Community College District.
Last year, the program brought in $1.13 million, and the district expects it to generate even more this academic year.
This semester alone, international enrollment increased by more than 41% to 535 students at Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark colleges.
Declared the "shining star" of district programs, Schneider has surpassed the district's expectations in attracting foreign students.
But once they arrive at the three colleges, many students say, basic services are lacking. In a foreign land without family, homes or, in many instances, full language skills--the students say they need extra support.
"Considering all the money we have to spend, we are not getting our fair share," said Carolina Gonzalez, 20, a student from Madrid who attends Moorpark College.
"We have our special needs, and one advisor for us is not enough," Gonzalez said. "We need a counselor who can talk to us about visas, English proficiency tests, host families or transferring units to schools back home. Most of the counseling staff don't know these things."
At $143 per unit, international students pay about 10 times as much in tuition as California residents, who pay $13 per unit. State taxes subsidize the majority of the community college enrollment fee for local residents.
And unlike tuition for California residents, which returns to the state to be redistributed, most of the money collected for foreign students goes directly to district coffers.
Each campus has one full-time international student director, but only Ventura College has an additional counselor who primarily helps foreign students.
Although students must be able to speak some English to enroll in classes, many who struggle with the language say they need a specialized counselor.
"I guess they think we are all the same, like the regular students," said Toru Takahashi, 19, a student from Japan at Oxnard College. "But all of us speak English at a different level."
Nationally, educators say adequate counseling is imperative for the foreign students.
"In order to recruit responsibly, you have to have adequate services for them once they arrive," said Jeanne Marie Duval, a director at the National Assn. for International Educators, based in Washington, D.C.
Schneider, who said the Ventura district was off to a good start, defended the district's commitment to the program.
"The fact that there is a full-time specialist at each of the colleges is good," she said.
She said her hands were tied when it came to deciding what student services should be provided. After paying for her salary and her assistant's salary, as well as her traveling expenses, the rest of the tuition money is returned to the three campuses.
Officials at the colleges then decide how the funds will be spent. Her budget for this academic year is $315,056.
"I was hired to recruit; that's my job," Schneider said. "Where the money goes is not my responsibility."
Each semester, Schneider usually goes on a monthlong expedition abroad. Last spring, she traveled to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and China, pitching the colleges as campuses in one of the safest areas along the pristine coast of California. On Monday, she will take a weeklong trip to Hawaii, where she will attend international student conferences.
The program has advantages beyond the money it brings in, Schneider said. A multiethnic campus allows students to learn first-hand about different cultures and issues facing other countries.
Schneider said the fees generated by the international program benefit all the district's 30,500 students.
"As the program grows, we will be able to buy new computers, build new buildings and offer better services," Schneider said.
Paying More, but Getting Less?
Takahashi and others disagree. They say international students are paying the most and reaping the least.
At Oxnard, many key services are missing, such as an office in which to meet their program advisor.
After traveling thousands of miles to attend Oxnard College, students there are greeted by an advisor at a window, who they often must wait in line to see. Students say the window service is impersonal at best.
"It's like they don't care," Takahashi said.
Also, students new to the country who are not yet acclimated and often know no one in the area, sometimes have personal, rather than academic, concerns.