While taking photos from the Spanish Steps of Rome during a study abroad excursion, Washington State university student Alejandra Carranza took in the view, reflected on the adventure and felt the sudden urge to belt out a raucous “Go Cougs!”

The cheer was quickly returned by a traveling alum who happened to be nearby, reinforcing what Carranza had long been told: Cougar Nation reaches far and wide.

“I think the cool thing about being a WSU student is that no matter where you go, you will find somebody connected,” said the fourth-year architecture and civil engineering student who aspires to work with a foreign-aid organization designing and building safe havens, clinics and water resources. “Traveling has helped focus my goals and aspirations. It helped me decide exactly what I want to do with my life and how I want to help people around the world.”

Carranza is part of the growing international experience at WSU.

In addition to an increasing number of students taking advantage of study abroad programs, enrollment among international students on WSU campuses is climbing as well. These are the kinds of trends university leaders believe will help grow WSU campuses, and better prepare all students for lives and careers in an increasingly global marketplace.

“We want our students to be global citizens,” said U.S. Ambassador (Ret.) and WSU Vice President for Office of International Programs Asif Chaudhry. “Their education at WSU might include study or working abroad, or learning and studying in a classroom or lab with students from across the globe.”

The Office of International Programs is a multi-faceted unit that works with students, faculty and staff, and serves as WSU’s hub for educational and research opportunities worldwide. The unit builds and fosters broad international partnerships while serving as a resource and center of expertise for the entire WSU community.

Study and education abroad programs, including internships and non-credit opportunities, have seen steady growth over the past five years, with students traveling to all seven continents. The number of WSU students who will have traveled abroad this year, including the summer session, is expected to increase slightly from the previous academic year when 840 students participated. The goal is to send at least 1,000 students abroad during the 2019-20 academic year.

“We know from studies that students who have internationalized their education become more employable,” said Christine Oakley, IP’s Director of Global Learning. “Whatever field of study, international travel ignites critical thinking about the world and gives a greater understanding of our interconnected lives.”

As well, the university wants to increase international enrollment to levels comparable to peer institutions nationally, which over time would mean at least doubling the international student population. It’s a key part of WSU’s Drive to 25 initiative.

WSU has partnered with the international recruiting company, INTO University Partnerships, to seek out students who are best suited to the academic opportunities here. The partnership was formed in 2016 to expand WSU’s international recruiting efforts through the expertise of an established company with worldwide reach. The partnership includes opportunities for students to enhance their English skills through WSU coursework, termed Pathways, which once completed allows them to continue into their field of study.

With the help of INTO, the number of international students at WSU is steadily climbing, a notable achievement given that nationally international enrollments have declined by 4 to 6 percent. Fall 2018 enrollment of 2,236 students saw a slight increase over Fall 2017 of 2,143 students, and it marked a 13 percent increase over Fall 2016.

“The expertise through the INTO WSU joint venture has allowed the university to expand

international enrollment at a time when fewer foreign students are seeking educational opportunities in the United States for a variety of reasons,” Chaudhry said. “This is a place that welcomes international students. Their presence is a great way of understanding what the rest of the world is all about.”

Increasing international enrollment also bring tangible economic benefits to the university and the entire state. Across Washington, the economic value of tuition and living expenses paid by international students and accompanying family members is estimated to be worth more than $917 million.

WSU’s international enrollment alone accounted for nearly $77.8 million of that total and supported an estimated 973 jobs statewide, according to a national economic analysis of the 2017-2018 academic year by NAFSA, a non-profit professional organization also known as the Association of International Educators.

“The benefit of a U.S. education to the students, and the benefit of having these students as part of our communities, is beyond economics,” Chaudhry said. “The greatest value lies in the lifelong enhancement of mutual understanding.”