NEW DELHI — When Rohit Bhasin recently arrived in India after eight years away, he was taken aback by the number of homes, roads and bridges being built.
“The first thing I noticed stepping off here was, ‘There’s so much spending going on,”’ said Mr. Bhasin, assistant director of admissions at the Massachusetts School of Law.
Recruiters from U.S. universities and colleges like Mr. Bhasin heard a similar message from the organizers of an education fair in New Delhi last month, just hours before they met with prospective students.
“I’ve been seeing on the news that this year, there’s 17 more billionaires than there were before,” said Sara Morgan, referring to an annual list of India’s richest people compiled by Forbes magazine.
Ms. Morgan, who is assistant director of graduate admissions at Emerson College in Boston, said recruiters like her had been told that apart from the ultrarich, “there is going to be an even greater upper class” that, like its Chinese counterpart, can afford to pay for an overseas education. “That’s an even better opportunity for U.S. schools.”
Education experts say this increasing affluence, and a shortage of top-quality colleges and universities in India, is likely to send more students abroad, despite the fact that two out of five Indians live in grinding poverty.
“There is a steadily increasing number of families who don’t blink when we tell them what the bill is going to be,” said Renuka Raja Rao, country coordinator of the United States-India Educational Foundation, which organized the fair along with the Institute of International Education. “I expect this will grow as the economy continues to grow at a fast clip.”
But the recruiters say that U.S. colleges and universities, including those that have long played host to Indian students, are learning that they cannot simply sit back and expect enrollments to grow but must increasingly rely on recruiters who travel to India, China and other countries.
“In the past, it’s not something my institution has done a lot of,” said Dawna Rhoades, associate dean of research and graduate studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Earlier, there were just two people for the whole world. Now, we have a director of international admissions with two full-time staff.”
Besides them, the university relies on Ms. Rhoades, who teaches business courses, and other faculty members to meet with students in key markets. “We’ve tapped our domestic market as much as we can,” she said.
At the university fair, held at a local cultural center, Ms. Rhoades fielded questions ranging from course content to the weather in Florida, where one of the university’s two campuses is located; the other is in Arizona. Some students wanted to know how many Indians lived on campus. Others asked about where graduates had managed to find jobs.
Students, some accompanied by their parents, moved through displays highlighting degrees in psychology, art, design and journalism — reflecting a much broader range than the computer science, engineering and business studies that continue to top the list of subjects Indian students choose.
While about 70 percent of Indians still go to the United States for graduate programs, institutions there are increasingly going after undergraduates, said Swaraj Nandan, a director at KIC UnivAssist, an organization that helps students applying to U.S. programs and also advises recruiters.
The reason for that is simple: “Most of the undergrads who go across are those who pay for their tuition,” he said. So while universities may want to attract students at both levels, “most admission committees focus on undergrads.”
To help his clients find students, Mr. Nandan not only considers where an institution has drawn students from historically, but he also uses data from surveys that rank the most affluent Indian cities. New Delhi is at the top, while Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Calcutta and Chennai also figure on the list. Even so, U.S. colleges are “slowly” trying to expand these efforts to include, for instance, some of the country’s leading boarding schools, Mr. Nandan said.
Audra Cryder, international representative at the University of Kentucky, said her institution had advertised on Web sites frequented by Indian students. “We also announce our forthcoming visits on the Web sites and encourage interested students to meet with us in person,” she said.
And that, said Mr. Bhasin of the Massachusetts School of Law, is key to closing a deal. “Until and unless you come here and be in front of them, no one is going to return your e-mail.