Manhattan, Kan—Thousands of students from Saudi Arabia are enrolling on college campuses across the United States this semester under a new educational exchange program brokered by President Bush and Saudi King Abdullah.
The program will quintuple the number of Saudi students and scholars here by the academic year’s end. And big, public universities from Florida to the Kansas plains are in a fierce competition for their tuition dollars.
The kingdom’s royal family—which is paying full scholarships for most of the 15,000 students—says the program will help stem unrest at home by schooling the country’s brightest in the American tradition. The U.S. State Department sees the exchange as a way to build ties with future Saudi leaders and young scholars at a time of unsteady relations with the Muslim world.
Administrators at Kansas State University, an agricultural school surrounded by miles of prairie grass, say the scholarships are a bonanza for public education.
“The Saudi scholarship program has definitely heightened our interest in that part of the world,” said Kenneth Holland, associate provost for international programs. “Not only are the students fully funded, but they’re also paying out-of-state tuition.”
Kansas State has boosted efforts to court Saudi officials in the last year, flying administrators and department heads to the Saudi embassy in Washington. It’s paid off: last month about 150 Saudi students started classes there, each funded to the tune of about $31,000.
Saudi Embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir said 90 percent of the 10,229 Saudi students the U.S. State Department has registered for the fall semester will also get such scholarships.
By January, U.S. government officials say the program will expand to 15,000 students, which means Saudi Arabia will send more foreign students to the U.S. than Mexico or Turkey. As funding for the scholarship program expands, those numbers are likely to grow.
“This is a critically important bilateral relationship,” said Tom Farrell, a deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the State Department. “It’s an opportunity to increase understanding of Saudi Arabia for the United States and of the United States for Saudi Arabia.”
College administrators say common misperceptions about the oil-rich nation make it crucial to create a tolerant environment for Arab and Muslim students, who have been singled out for scrutiny since the Sept. 11 attacks five years ago.
So, as Kansas State students enjoy a string of home football games this month, they also are preparing for the campus’ first celebration of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
“We really want to make this special. We’re going to truck in halal food from Kansas City,” Holland said. “The Saudi government is trying to place the students in a variety of institutions across the country, but where you get the competitive advantage is how you treat the students when they get here.”
Marwan Al-Kadi, who was active in the Muslim student association while he studied industrial engineering at Kansas State, said efforts to raise awareness about religious diversity have helped the new influx of students feel comfortable.
Yet for Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education in New York, the new bilateral agreement is a “tremendously positive” step toward person-to-person diplomacy.
“These 15,000 students will really jump-start education and that will be a great addition to the Kingdom,” said Goodman. “At its base, it’s about mutual understanding.”
Newark, NJ—As New Jersey`s population becomes more diverse, the list of approved religious holidays for its schools is getting longer and longer.
This year`s lengthy calendar includes six religions and 75 approved holidays, the Newark Star-Ledger reports.
It runs from the Islamic Day of Ascension on Sept. 1 to a Buddhist holiday on June 26 with Christmas, Passover and the first day of Ramadan in between.
‘Each year we get a call that such and such holiday is based on the third rising of the moon, or things like that,’ says Isaac Bryant, deputy education commissioner. ‘It`s been interesting, absolutely.’
Listing of approved religious holidays dates back to a 1951 law that prohibits schools from penalizing children who are absent for religious reasons.
In addition to changing the dates each year, a half-dozen new holidays were added to New Jersey`s calendar including the Day of Ashurah that commemorates the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed`s grandson.