PLAINVIEW – On Debra Sherley’s first trip to the United Arab Emirates, she heard that recruiting in the Middle East required patience.
“I was told that it may take three years to get a student on our campus,” said Sherley, international student advisor in the office of admissions at Wayland Baptist University. “We got three the first year.”
In the first effort by Wayland to recruit in that region, three students have enrolled. For Sherley, that was excellent return on her efforts. Even better news, in her opinion, is that the opportunities to recruit in U.A.E. are abundant.
“A lot of the missionary kids and expatriates from the U.S. live in the U.A.E., and they are hungry for information about American universities,” Sherley explained. “We have to invest in them if we want them to invest in us.”
That “investment” has included two trips to Dubai in the past few years for Sherley, who spent her days visiting numerous churches, schools and education fairs during both visits. Making contact with parents and pastors has proven to be a good route for Wayland, as they’re able to connect with people who are most interested in providing a Christian education for their children.
Even the Muslim parents, Sherley said, were interested in Wayland because they appreciate the values and morals upheld at a Christian university and feel their children will be safer and in a moral environment to earn their education.
During her recent visit in February, Sherley attended a college fair put on especially for U.S. schools, encouraged by the U.S. embassy and supported by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sherley said the American government is encouraging schools to recruit the U.A.E. region for the exporting benefits, and the U.A.E. is supportive of the effort as well.
To honor schools for their outreach efforts, the U.S. Commercial Service presented the President’s ‘E’ Award for Excellence in Exports to five universities during the expo, noted as one of the most prestigious forms of recognition offered by the U.S. government. Wayland was among the honorees, along with the University of Central Oklahoma, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, University of Buffalo and the Community College of Southern Nevada.
The Commercial Service also noted that more student visas have been issued from Dubai in recent years, in part because of changes that have decreased processing time for visa applications. National residents of U.A.E. are provided with free college education regardless of the school they choose, but 80 percent of the country’s population is non-nationals. Sherley added that there are only a few universities in the U.A.E., and they are primarily Muslim and therefore not appealing to many non-nationals. Though some American schools exist – owned by the U.A.E. but following an American curriculum and foreign faculty members – their capacity is limited in relation to the large population and they still don’t have the U.S. stamp.
“The U.S. degree is still the most esteemed in the world,” Sherley said. “If you have a U.S. degree, you have a better chance of getting a job overseas.”
Because of this, students are interested in obtaining those degrees even if it means traveling to the other side of the world. While Dubai’s Knowledge Village provides space for any universities to establish branch locations there, currently no U.S. schools have done so.
On her first visit, Sherley spent much time networking through the protestant churches in the region, and she did much of the same on the recent trip. She was invited to speak at the Emirates Baptist Church International one evening, and met a family who knew current WBU students Daniel and Maureen Coutinho, who are from Comoros, Africa, and Joann Jacob, a new student from Dubai.
This year, she also met with several school counselors to get the word out about Wayland. But parents continue to be the best bet for reaching students in the Middle East, as they are concerned about their children getting a good education and going to a school that upholds their values.
Sherley was able to visit with the parents of current WBU freshman Markose Chenthitta, a Dubai resident recruited during last year’s visit, as well as Jacob’s parents, and got positive feedback on their students’ experience at Wayland.
“Parents are some of the best advertising we have,” Sherley said of the visits. “If they’re happy with the experience their kids are having here, they’ll tell other parents.”
Sherley remains confident that the growth in international recruiting – especially in the Middle East – is due to God’s plan and opportunities he’s put in place. Because of that, she says she can’t help but look forward to what’s ahead.
“These things are happening for a reason. We didn’t go to Dubai just because we wanted to – the doors are opening for us there.”