Clayton State welcomed 19 new international students for the spring semester. 

In a state that hosts thousands of international students, 19 enrolling this spring might not sound like much. 

But for Clayton State University just south of Atlanta, that’s more than 10 percent of the total of 131. 

One big factor was an influx of 10 Saudi Arabian MBA students, who have been arriving steadily over the past few years. 

Through the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, the nation in 2006 began paying for thousands of students each year to pursue an education abroad. The number of Saudis at U.S. universities more than doubled during the first year of the program. With a 30 percent increase to 45,000 students last year, the nation of 28 million people is now No. 4 among nations in sending students to the U.S. behind ChinaIndia and South Korea.

“The Saudi government realized a long time ago that the oil would run out or would be too deep to get, so King Abdullah in his wisdom decided years ago that he would take some of the wealth and fully fund students to travel to other parts of the world to develop skills and tools that would allow the country to flourish,” said Brett Reichert, associate director in the university’s International Student Services Office. 

The metro Atlanta university has been a big beneficiary, with about 50 Saudi graduate students arriving over the past three years, mostly thanks to word of mouth. As most of them live off campus, Mr. Reichert said they’re drawn by low cost of living and small class sizes. 

“They are the cream of the crop of Saudi students,” Mr. Reichert said. 

About 90 percent are male, but females – which make up the majority of college graduates in Saudi Arabia – are trickling in for health and education programs. A few female students have brought their husbands along, turning the traditional Saudi family authority structure on its head, Mr. Reichert told Global Atlanta. During the phone interview, three Saudi women knocked on his door to inquire about work permits. 

Many universities have seen their Saudi student populations increase since the launch of the scholarship program. (With an increase of 30 percent to 45,000 last year, the nation of 28 million people is now No. 4 among nations in sending students to the U.S.) But Clayton State is unique in that the nation accounts for more than one-third of its total international student population. 

Clayton has no students from China, by far the top sending nation for just about every other college in the state. 

This spring’s crop of international students at Clayton State also included three from Nigeria and others from SpainEstoniaRussiaBrazil and Iran

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As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...