For a decade, international student enrollment had steadily risen. After a smaller drop in 2016-2017, international student enrollment in 2017-2018 fell steeply, by 6.6 percent. What gives? And what does this mean for college tuition and U.S. students and families?
The decline is meaningful for colleges because international students pay more than their in-state peers. These funds often subsidize school budgets and institutional grants. One college, Wright State University, lost more than $10 million dollars in revenue, mostly because 800 fewer international students enrolled. Another college, The University of Central Missouri, forfeited $14 million in revenue after it witnessed a drop of more 1,500 international students in 2017-2018.
Why Are There Fewer International Students?
There are many reasons for the decline. According to PEW, the declines are greatest in the Midwest and Texas, possibly because midwestern colleges are less well known and Texas has an international reputation for allowing guns on campus.
Outside reasons include a decrease in Saudi and Brazilian international scholarship programs that have supported international study for tens of thousands of students. Other countries, such as Australia, Canada, and Germany, have upped their game, making it easier and more attractive for international students.
The current administration, with its strong anti-illegal immigration policies and pronouncements, has also made students cautious about coming to the U.S. Many international students come to the U.S. with dreams of making new lives for themselves. But in January, the Trump administration limited the Optional Practical Training program to exclude temporary workers, making them less desirable to employers. Homeland Security also announced increased prosecutions for students who overstay their visas.
Cutting Already Impacted Budgets
As state funding has either leveled off or decreased, tuition has become a larger portion of institutional budgets. This increases the effect of international student decline. Because of the decrease, budget cuts at Wright state have caused steep cuts to their program offerings. They eliminated Italian, Russian, and Japanese and can no longer fund the swimming team. The University of Central Missouri cut its computer science instructors. They also shaved money from other departments and maintenance, including offering only online versions of the school’s student newspaper.
Though it is not yet reported that the drop is causing tuition increases, it seems that continued losses will be passed along to the constituency that has been carrying the burden of cost increases and losses in revenue—U.S. students and their families. These factors have fueled the student loan debt crisis and the pressures on students and families will only grow greater.
One effort is emblematic of the difficulties colleges face. LeBron James is a revered sports hero in China. He was enlisted in a marketing campaign to entice Chinese students to attend the University of Akron. The decrease not only continued, but James has left Cleveland for Los Angeles. So, for now, it appears the exodus will continue. Who will bear the burden of this shift?