More U.S. students head to Canada

Quality, cost make universities north of border attractive

May 04, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

When Paul Beel sets up his table at tonight's college fair at Villa Julie College, he could put up a sign that says "High Quality, Low Prices."

That's the combination attracting more and more students from the United States to Canada for college. Beel represents the most popular destination -- McGill University in Montreal, where he is international admissions and recruitment director.

"We've seen a dramatic increase over the last three years," says Beel, who is swinging through the mid-Atlantic states this week.

Three years ago, he says, McGill registered 300 students from the United States. Last fall, that number had climbed to 511, with 22 from Maryland.

Canadian colleges offer a two-pronged financial advantage -- low government-subsidized tuition made more affordable by an exchange rate that pegs the Canadian dollar at about two-thirds the value of U.S. currency.

That means tuition for an international student at McGill -- which has about 16,000 undergraduates -- is $6,000 to $7,000, depending on the program, about a third what it would be at a comparable private school in the United States.

To capitalize on this advantage, Canadian schools have been increasing their efforts to attract students from south of the border, sending people such as Beel farther afield.

The Canadian embassy has set up a Web site -- studyincanada -- dedicated to its colleges and universities.

The effort also helps reverse a brain drain in which the number of Canadian students studying at schools in the United States has risen steadily in recent years, from about 10,000 two decades ago to almost 23,000 during the 1998-1999 academic year.

McGill has joined three schools -- the University of Toronto; Queens University in Kingston, Ontario; and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver -- to market themselves as "The Canadian Ivies."

"Queens is as tough to get into as an Ivy League school," says Shirley Levin, a private educational consultant in Rockville. "The University of Toronto is pretty hard as well. I would rate McGill as highly selective, not as tough as Queens.

"They are looking for high achievers," she says. "They want to know what your grades were and how tough the courses were."

Eva Turner, director of college counseling at Gilman School, has seen interest there increase in the past few years.

"McGill has been very steady for the past five years, but the University of Toronto is coming into the mix more and more," she says. Gilman will send a student to each school in the fall.

"You've seen an increase in interest in the entire private school constituency because these schools offer a really affordable option," she says. "And Baltimore kids like to go to urban universities. McGill and Toronto are beautifully located within great cities."

That was one of the aspects that attracted Amy H. Morrison when she decided to attend McGill after graduating from Park School four years ago.

"I went to McGill because it offered an excellent education in a fabulous urban city and the tuition is very affordable " says Morrison, 22.

She was considering some top-flight high-priced U.S. schools -- George Washington University in Washington; Columbia University in New York; Northwestern University in Illinois -- when she learned about McGill from a classmate from Montreal.

"I spent my third year at Columbia and I found the academic level just as high at McGill," says Morrison, who recently earned a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from McGill.

In addition to getting American dollars into their economy, the international aspect of the American students is what the Canadian schools get in return for their recruiting.

"The percentage of international students in any given university has become a feature in a way it never was before," says Beel. "It's a statistic you throw around to impress people."

Beel says Canadian schools have another major selling point -- their cities have very low crime rates compared with their American counterparts, something comforting to parents about to send a child away from home.

And, though McGill is in Francophone Quebec, it is an English-speaking institution. The French spoken in the city can be an added learning experience. "We like to say that you can still go to school in North America but have a European experience," Beel says.

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