EDMOND — When Joshua Lim was a freshman at the University of Central Oklahoma three years ago, he had to adapt to living in a new country while learning to navigate college life.
Lim is hardly alone. A study released this week shows the number of international college students is growing in Oklahoma and nationwide.
According to the study, the 2012 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Oklahoma is welcoming an increasing number of students like Lim. During the 2011-12 academic year, 8,722 international students enrolled in Oklahoma colleges and universities. The study was conducted by the nonprofit Institute for International Education.
Oklahoma's figure represents an increase of 1.1 percent over last year's total of 8,626, according to the report. The state ranks 25th in the nation in terms of the number of international students it enrolls.
When he was in high school in Malaysia, Lim said, he dreamed of studying in the United States. He considered a few universities in New York and elsewhere. But when recruiters from UCO came to his school and told him about the university's relatively low tuition and the low cost of living in Oklahoma, he thought it sounded like a good fit.
Being able to meet with college recruiters in person and ask questions about the university helped ease his mind about the decision to enroll at UCO, Lim said.
“It was the personal touch,” he said.
Although Oklahoma's total of international students represents an increase over last year, it still falls short of the state's figures a decade ago. Oklahoma's colleges and universities enrolled 10,463 international students in the fall 2002 semester, according to numbers from the State Regents for Higher Education.
Between fall 1996 and fall 2011, the state averaged 8,945 international students whose origins were reported. That average doesn't include international students who don't report their country of origin.
The largest share of Oklahoma's international students — 19.2 percent — comes from China, according to the new report. India ranks second, with 11.8 percent. Saudi Arabia sends the third-largest group, with 8.4 percent of the state's international students.
Oklahoma State University welcomed the largest share of internationals, with 1,993. The University of Oklahoma enrolled 1,815 international students, and UCO enrolled 1,195.
Nationwide, colleges and universities saw record numbers of international students, according to the report. The number nationwide spiked 6 percent, bringing the total to a record high of 764,495 in the 2011-12 academic year.
That increase continues a trend of steady growth in international student enrollment nationwide. According to the institute, enrollment among internationals slowed and declined in the years after 9/11, dropping 2.4 percent in the 2003-04 academic year and about 1 percent the following year.
International enrollment nationwide began to rebound during the 2005-06 academic year, and has grown steadily since then, increasing 2 percent in 2009-10 and 5 percent last year.