MACOMB, Illinois - Western Illinois University is trying to bring more international students to its campus, but school leaders face an uphill battle to reassure students that the U.S is a welcoming country.
Hashim Al-Rikabi and his fellow international students are bringing the world to Western Illinois University.
He's from Iraq and chose to go to Western.
"For me it was a great opportunity because you know the reputation of education the U.S is very high, unlike back home in Iraq, so it was amazing opportunity," said Al-Rikabi.
These students represent an important part of the growth at Western and throughout the country. In January, the university launched its "You Are Welcomed Here" campaign.
The message is simple, "To let international students know they are indeed welcomed to come to the institution," said Jeff Hancks, interim director of international studies.
However, it couldn't come at a worse time. Western knows international students pay more for tuition. They also bring prestige to a school and diversity to a campus. All of that is essential in a cash-strapped state that's seeing college enrollment drop.
"The root word of university is "universe," right, so to truly be a university we need to represent the world so we want students from around the world to come here," said Hancks.
This semester the college has 482 international students from 60 different countries. The university's president has said eventually he wants 1,000 international students attending Western.
Enrollment at Western Illinois University has been falling over the past ten years. Back in the fall of 2006, enrollment between both campuses was just over 11,000. In 2011, fall enrollment dropped to a little over 12,500 and last fall enrollment fell to 10,373 students, including both full and part time students.
[Editor's note: This article was updated to correct 2011 and 2016 enrollment numbers]