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Have You Heard the Word? OCU Boosted by Word of Mouth in International Recruitment Efforts - 2024

by Nick Trougakos

Man standing in front of window
International graduate student Jake Adebayo is originally from Nigeria and studying computer science at OCU.

Jake Adebayo is a testament to the idea that word of mouth is a powerful tool in international higher education recruitment. The 33-year-old was born in London to African parents. His mother is from Nigeria, his father is from the Seychelles, and Adebayo has lived in all three countries—calling himself a “global citizen.” He completed his undergraduate degree in computer science in Nigeria at the University of Ibadan.

When Adebayo decided he wanted to pursue a graduate degree in the United States, he solicited the advice of several friends, including some who had attended Oklahoma City University. “Their stories of dedicated professors, hands-on learning experiences and vibrant campus life assured me that OCU was the perfect place for me to not only receive a quality education rooted in Christian values,” Adebayo said, “but also to grow personally and make lifelong memories within a diverse and welcoming community.”

Adebayo enrolled in OCU’s Master of Science in Computer Science program, and now is part of a growing roster of international students who have chosen to call Oklahoma City University home. In fact, a climb in students from India, Africa and Southeast Asia, among other regions, was a driving force in pushing OCU’s overall enrollment up 8% yearover-year in the fall of 2023. It is the largest total enrollment the school has seen in five years. In the fall, there were 257 international students enrolled at OCU, up from 169 the year before.

The uptick is aided by word of mouth, as in Adebayo’s case, but also through tactical efforts by university leaders to put the right promotion and programming in place to win in the international market. Sri Beldona, dean of the Meinders School of Business, has played a role both on the promotion and programming side of the equation. In February, Beldona and OCU President Kenneth Evans undertook a whirlwind goodwill trip through India, Malaysia and Taiwan to visit local universities and help get OCU’s name out in international recruiting circles.

The trip resulted in the signing of memorandums of understanding with four universities to create pathways for foreign students to earn graduate business degrees at OCU. Beldona said such efforts are vital in today’s higher education environment. “Trips like these allow us to make connections in foreign countries by talking to potential students and, more importantly, meeting with the parents of potential students,” he said. “In most of the Asian and African countries, going abroad to study is a family decision.”

While wooing the family is critical, providing degree choices that resonate may be even more important. Beldona has made headway in this area since joining OCU in 2022. The following year, he moved to have Meinders’ MBA degrees in Data Analytics and Financial Analytics recognized as STEM-designated programs. He also added Master of Science degrees in Data Analytics and Financial Analytics, both designated as STEM degrees.

“Most international students gravitate toward STEM-designated programs because these degrees are in great demand by employers,” Beldona said. Students with STEM-designated degrees also get to take advantage of extended employment opportunities in the United States, giving them a chance to firmly establish their careers before heading home. “When international students do return to their home country with an American degree and American work experience, they are often hired by multinational companies.”

When Adebayo enrolled at OCU, he chose the cybersecurity track within the university’s Master of Science in Computer Science program. He said he plans to pursue work as a cybersecurity analyst at a tech company. “I am also interested in starting or co-founding a startup in the future,” he said. The option of a cybersecurity track—one of four options OCU’s graduate computer science students can choose from—also helped push Adebayo to OCU, he said.

Jeff Maxwell, the director of Computer Science and Mathematics within the Petree College of Arts and Sciences, said the choice of tracks in the Master of Science in Computer Science program has been a driving factor in that degree’s explosive growth since the program came off hiatus in 2021. In fact, the program had only five graduate students in the fall of 2021. The fall 2023 semester kicked off with 156 graduate students, with a significant amount of that total coming from India. The choice of tracks and a bump in international movement post-COVID are key factors, Maxwell said, along with strong word of mouth. “We are getting a lot of referrals for friends and family of current students,” he said.

Adebayo said he is glad he listened to the word-of-mouth referrals and ended up in Oklahoma City. He said he has found the city very enjoyable. “The people are friendly and welcoming, and there is always something to do,” Adebayo said. “I have particularly enjoyed the city’s many parks and trails, as well as the diverse food scene.” His impression of the classroom experience has been just as good. “I am very grateful for the opportunity to study at OCU,” Adebayo said. “I have learned so much from my professors and classmates, and I have made many lasting friendships. I would highly recommend OCU to any international student considering studying in the United States.”

Group of students smiling
International students from around the world met at an orientation and reception at the beginning of the academic year.

Sidebar: OCU Seeks to be Home Away From Home for International Students 

For many international students, traveling to America for college can be a life-defining experience. Many students have never visited the United States before and must deal with a variety of language and cultural adjustments as they settle into their new educational landing spot.

OCU international student Jake Adebayo said that in addition to Oklahoma City being a good destination for international students like him, Oklahoma City University staff have worked hard to make foreign students feel welcome and at home as they make the transition to a new country.

“I have experienced OCU doing many things,” Adebayo said. “OCU has an international student services office that provides a variety of services to international students, such as immigration assistance, academic advising and cultural support.

“For example, OCU hosts a variety of events and programs for international students, such as international student dinners and cultural festivals. OCU also has a number of international student organizations that provide a sense of community and support.”

Adebayo said he has found the city of Oklahoma City to be especially good for students who are visiting the United States for the first time.

“The city is very welcoming and diverse, and there are many resources available to support international students,” he said.

In the future, Adebayo would like to see even more opportunities for international students to connect with the local community and experience American culture.

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