More Saudi Arabian students are seeking higher education abroad, in part because the new Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) encourages students to do so. As a result, the number of Saudi students enrolled at U.S. universities is growing dramatically. From the Middle Eastern desert to the American southwestern desert, THE UNM Global Education Office (GEO) aims to attract Saudi Arabian students with its similarities, differences and strong programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

GEO International Admissions Associate Director Pablo Torres recently traveled to Saudi Arabia for the week-long International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education (IECHE), sponsored by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Higher Education. More than 440 universities from around the world attended the conference, designed to provide Saudi students with information about attending college in other areas of the world. The U.S. had the highest representation; other English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia were also highly popular with students who attended.

“We talked to at least five hundred Saudi students,” Torres said. “And we captured contact information for almost two hundred students. An event like this is essential to attend because it puts UNM in a very visible place among a highly important international student community.”

According to data gathered at the beginning of this year by the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), at least 57,000 Saudi students are currently enrolled at U.S. colleges, providing America with its fourth largest source of international students. Some organizations, including the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States, put the number closer to 100,000.

Currently, UNM has 46 Saudi students enrolled, a number that has risen steadily in the past few years. Of those students, 18 are taking intensive English classes through GEO’s Center for English Language and American Culture (CELAC).

Torres explained that most Saudi students who choose to enroll at UNM are primarily interested in UNM STEM programs. Last year, more than a third of total international students in the U.S. were enrolled in STEM programs.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), from 2010 to 2013, the number of Saudi students studying STEM subjects in the U.S. grew 143 percent. The growth has been explosive, but predictable, given the efforts of the Saudi government to encourage their students to study abroad.

Torres said that Saudi students contribute a distinctive cultural perspective, as well as diverse traditions and customs to UNM, making recruiting Saudi students a vital part of UNM’s overall international student recruitment process.

“Saudi students also bring strong academic skills to UNM. They typically have strong community support at home, and that propels their interest in studying here,” Torres said.