Southern Oregon University was set to sign an agreement today establishing a joint degree program with Zhengzhou University of Light Industry, located in China's Henan Province.

The connection between China and the Rogue Valley now includes a college education.

Southern Oregon University was set to sign an agreement today establishing a joint degree program with Zhengzhou University of Light Industry, located in China's Henan Province.

The agreement will allow Chinese students to complete a bachelor's degree in business, computer science or digital design at SOU and comes after two years of negotiations between the two schools.

"Our goal is to build slowly," said Gary Miller, director of international programs. "Quality is what we want to do from the beginning."

Chinese students taking advantage of the new agreement will arrive in Ashland beginning in fall 2011. Miller expects to see no more than six students in the first year.

"The Chinese, generally, are interested in technology and business. Most of the market is there. Interest in music and art is coming," Miller said.

The Chinese students will pay nonresident tuition and fees, which for 15 credits in 2010-11 cost $6,810 per term. There are no current plans to send SOU students to China.

SOU Provost Jim Klein and Dean of the School of Business Raj Parikh visited Zhengzhou University of Light Industry last May.

"They were very welcoming. There is a tremendous amount of interest in getting to the U.S.," said Parikh.

Even with the joint agreement, the visiting students must go through the normal admission process.

"They need to be admitted like any other international student," Miller said.

They are required to complete two years of study at their home university and pass English language tests. When they come to SOU, they will complete two more years of school to receive their degree. Students who have completed a four-year degree in China also have access to a master's program in business administration or management.

"The university has many international connections — this is just a part of that strategy," Parikh said of SOU.

Joint university arrangements are becoming common, according to Miller. In 2009, the School of Business signed an agreement with Henan Normal University for a joint tourism and hospitality management program with student and faculty exchange. SOU also collaborated with the Confucius Classroom at St. Mary's School in Medford, offering 25 Chinese students housing on the SOU campus for the 2010 school year.

"We want to prepare global citizens," said Parikh.

SOU admits some 100 international students from more than 40 countries every year; 15 to 20 of the students are in the School of Business.

"It really benefits our students to have interactions with other cultures and students. This is part of a bigger internationalization of the campus," Miller said.

Earlier this month, Miller and SOU President Mary Cullinan traveled to China with the Oregon Legislative and Trade Delegation. The two-week visit was spent meeting with representatives of higher education in different parts of China, including Fujian Normal University in the Fujian Province. SOU first began building relations with Fujian Normal University 20 years ago with student and faculty exchanges.

"I was delighted to plan further collaboration with administrators at FNU, and I'm so pleased that I was able to participate in the delegation," Cullinan said in a press release. Cullinan kept a detailed blog chronicling her visit at http://news.sou.edu/president/.

Reach reporter Johanna Thompson at 541-482-3456, ext. 225.