Two Vermont colleges switch to 'university' to attract Chinese students

By HONG XIAO in New York | | Updated: 2017-06-12 05:48

What's in a name change?

When it comes to Johnson State College and Lyndon State College in Vermont, it's one word – dropping "college".

And the reason: to improve marketing and attract higher-tuition paying foreign students, especially from China, a move that colleges and universities across America have been doing since the number of foreign students has surged.

Last year, 328,547 Chinese students studied in the US, accounting for 32 percent of the foreign students in the US, according to data from the Institute of International Education (IIE).

However, Vermont ranks 48th among the 50 states attracting foreign students. Last year, 1,712 students studied in Vermont, 39 percent of them Chinese. Foreign students brought $75 million to Vermont in 2016, an increase from $34 million just six years ago, according to the IIE.

The two Vermont schools, which are about 55 miles apart and have separate campuses, now are one, at least in name: Northern Vermont University (NVU), which will welcome its first freshman class in the fall 2018.

Now, Lyndon has eight international students: five are from China. Johnson State has two international students from England and Bermuda. There are no Chinese students.

In 2016, the board of trustees of the state colleges system voted unanimously to unify Johnson and Lyndon State into NVU, keeping each school's separate campus, to save money and increase revenue.

In explaining the name change, Patricia Coates, director of communications for the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS), told China Daily that "college" may have different conceptions outside the US. In China, "college" sometimes is equal to "high school" or "junior college".

"Frankly, let's be honest, 'university' provides a marketing advantage and that is a big part of what we hope to leverage from this unification [of Lyndon and Johnson]," Coates told the news website in a 2016.

Vermont's state college tuition is among the highest of any state in the nation, according to the website. The state's smaller public colleges have seen enrollments decline and are more dependent on tuition because of low state support. Tuition and fees make up 58 percent of their revenue; room and board, 17 percent; and state support, 16 percent.

At Lyndon, according to the school's web site, in 2015 there were 1,200 students, and in-state tuition was $10,700 and out-of-state tuition was $21,764. International students qualify for the Open Frontiers Scholarship awards when enrolled in any degree program at Lyndon, and can receive $5,500 each year.

For the academic year 2016-2017, Johnson's website lists in-state tuition at $10,244 and out-of-state is $22,680.

The tuition for NVU hasn't been disclosed yet.

It's not the first time that an institute of higher education in Vermont has changed its name. In July 2015, Castleton State College in Castleton changed to Castleton University after a unanimous vote from the school's board of trustees.

University president Dave Wolk explained that the reasons for the name change included growth in the number of graduate programs and the student body, as well as Castleton's international recruitment efforts.

The school's website says that in 2015, 40 countries, including China, were represented among its student body of 2,246. Tuition for the academic year 2017-2018 for an entering student is $22,490 for in-state and $38,042 for out-of-state.

Patrick Liu, director of international student enrollment at Castleton University, said people in a number of countries, including China, have a different conception of "college" than Americans.

"Sometimes, people might think the education quality of a university would be higher than a college," said Liu. "So the change of the school's name could avoid such misunderstanding and make it easier to explain to students overseas. It's good for the school's promotion and development, especially overseas."

In 2016, Lyndon welcomed its first students from Xi'an into the undergraduate degree program. The school has an electronic journalism arts program that collaborates with China's Xi'an University. Each January, students from Xi'an, Shaanxi province, spend a few weeks on campus with hands-on learning in electronic journalism.

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