At U.S. colleges, African students shape their future

As more and more students in sub-Saharan Africa graduate from secondary school, a growing number are seeking college degrees. Many of these students are looking to the United States for their university education. In fact, the number of African students on U.S. campuses grew by 74 percent between 1999 and 2015, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Tamilore Ogunbanjo just finished his first year at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington. Being far from his family in Lagos, Nigeria, he appreciates a supportive community on campus.

Young man in baseball cap standing next to brick building (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)
Tamilore Ogunbanjo, from Lagos, Nigeria, stands in front of the Science Hall at Howard University in Washington, where he studies computer engineering. (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

Rajika Bhandari, head of research, policy and practice at the Institute of International Education, says student services and extracurricular activities are big draws for international students. “Our research on student perception shows that one reason why international students really value a U.S. campus experience is because the level of support and community they receive is much more than what you see in other countries.”

Ogunbanjo has met other Nigerian students at Howard through the African Student Association — students like Chibuike Agba.

Agba had not thought about going to the United States for university until hearing about EducationUSA when he was still in school in Abuja, Nigeria. Now he has completed his third year studying mechanical engineering at Howard.

He enjoys the practical aspects of his coursework, like the time he built a crossbow in his manufacturing class. “You get to apply the things you learn, so you can see its applications in the real world,” he says. This summer he has been invited to do research at the University of California San Diego through a partnership with Howard’s engineering department.

After he completes a master’s degree, Agba wants to return home to improve Nigeria’s energy infrastructure. “I’m thinking of going back to give back and try to implement what I have learned over here,” he says.

Smiling young man holding a book, standing in a wood-paneled library (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)
Chibuike Agba received a scholarship from Howard University to help cover the cost of studying in the United States. (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

Students like Agba often come to the United States wanting to learn how to improve conditions in their home regions, even if they have not chosen their major yet. 

When Joy Kamunyori graduated from high school in Nairobi, Kenya, she planned to study computer science, but wasn’t confident that she would like it as a career. She wanted a liberal arts education that would let her explore her interests. “I didn’t just want to go abroad for college. I wanted to go to the U.S. specifically for that flexibility,” she says.

Kamunyori enrolled in Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, to study computer science. “But on the side I was taking all of these development economics classes because I wanted to understand why the West does some of the things it does in the name of development,” she says.

She credits the liberal arts model she found in the United States with allowing her to follow the big questions she had as a student, which led to her career as a technology consultant for international development organizations in South Africa. “My degree helps me in helping people figure out what technology they want to apply to their public health challenges,” she says.