International Enrollment Dropping Locally and Nationally

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BY GENEVA NODLAND nodlandge@mnstate.edu

MSUM is no stranger to the national collegiate trend of declining international student enrollment.

Enrollment is going down, but why?

In general, MSUM’s enrollment has been shrinking the last few years. Enrollment is down 109 students from last year to this year, says a press release from MSUM from earlier this month. That same press release also says the Minnesota State University system as a whole is down 2.7%. 

A large factor in the decrease at MSUM is due to what the release describes as a “continued decrease” of international students. This fall semester is at 251 enrolled international students, compared to last fall’s 290. 

International student enrollment began to drop off in 2016. That’s clear. What isn’t clear is why. A November 2018 article from Forbes.com digs into the inquiry at hand. 

The Forbes article argues that even though commentators have said that the decline in international students is due to what some call the “Trump effect,” the costs are what students are actually looking at in deciding to study internationally. 

Arrick Jackson is the Vice President of Academic Affairs at MSUM. Although he doesn’t have many comments about declining enrollment of international students, he does recognize the situation.

“It’s a tough time for universities and colleges all over as far as retaining and recruiting international students, and MSUM is not an exception to that rule,” Jackson said.

According to the article, the Institute of International Education said that in 2017, first-time undergraduate international student enrollment was at 109,000, which is a drop of 7,000 students from 2016. 

“That marks the second straight year of declining new international enrollment at U.S. institutions,” Forbes said.

Do financial burdens have an impact?

Forbes suggests higher tuition and costs are the reason for international student decline.  

As tuition rises, international student enrollment decreases nationwide, Forbes reports. According to research from collegeboard.org, from 2008-2009 to 2013-2014, published tuition and fees (before financial aid) increased almost 30% in four-year schools. Also, the average tuition and fees increased by 7% at public four-year colleges and universities from 2013-2014 to 2018-2019.

Meet one of MSUM’s international students

Tobias Bogel, or Tobi as people call him, is a senior majoring in biology and sociology at MSUM. Bogel came to MSUM to study in spring 2015 from Germany. He was playing football back home and his head coach was from Moorhead. He began looking around the U.S. for schools to attend and continue playing football, and he ultimately chose MSUM. 

He wanted to choose a school where he wouldn’t get “lost.” When he came here, he said he immediately had coaches who took care of him and a pool of friends because of his involvement in athletics. 

“As an international, you come here and all you have is a suitcase, and the first person you meet is your roommate, so that’ll be your only friend,” Bogel said. “Now, if you play sports, it makes things a lot easier.”

Cost is key, home and abroad

Financial costs are a large factor in choosing to study abroad. At MSUM, international students receive in-state tuition, as they do in most schools in Minnesota and the Midwest. The difference in tuition, room and board, and all other fees is $1,110 more for international students, according to a form from the 2018-2019 school year. International students are required to pay for health insurance for the year and have an additional international student fee, causing the slight increase in their overall costs.

Student visa process varies

The process to follow once a student decides they do want to study in the U.S. is not the same for everyone. It depends on where the student is from. 

Bogel explained that some potential students must take a test to determine if they are proficient in English in order to study in the U.S., and then financial aid comes into play.  

“Once you get admitted you have to show a bank statement that you have enough money in funds that you can pay the first year,” Bogel said. 

He also said that a lot of banks in the U.S. don’t offer international students a credit, so if the student’s home country doesn’t give them a loan, the student must prove that they are able to pay for school before they start to attend. 

Obtaining a student visa can be broken down into four steps.

  1. Find, apply and be accepted to a school with a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)
  2. Pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee
  3. Apply for a student visa at a U.S. Embassy (pay fee and submit required items)
  4. Attend interview for visa at U.S. Embassy

Find more information about student visas in the U.S. here.

Although the process is broken down into four steps here, it can be many more. It is suggested that students start the process six to twelve months in advance, to allocate time for anything to go awry.

“Depending on the nationality of your passport, is it respectively easier or difficult to get a visa,” Bogel said. “I can imagine that people from Iran or Iraq that come here to study have a whole other set of questions that they have to go through.” 

Once the student visa is received, students are set to travel to the U.S. and attend school.

There are regulations and policies that international students have to follow in order to stay and study here. One of those is that they are not allowed to work off campus, and another states that if they want to leave the country they must get a signature from someone in the International Student Office confirming they are still a student at the university. 

“They will always let you out, but they will not always let you in,” Bogel said. 

Meet another MSUM international student

Chinatsu, or Chi, Oizumi, is also an international student at MSUM. She transferred from a school in Seattle to MSUM to study public relations in 2018, and similar to Bogel, she was looking for a small campus. But before Moorhead and Seattle, Oizumi lived in Japan. 

Including the regulations stated earlier, there are a few additional ones that might be specific to the country the student is from. Oizumi said she must make sure she is following both Japanese and American laws while studying internationally. For example, although recreational and medical marijuana is legal in some U.S. states, it is illegal in Japan, so Oizumi still must follow this law. 

Upon deciding she wanted to pursue education in the U.S., Oizumi found aid in an agency in Japan, whose purpose is to help students throughout the process of studying abroad. She said they helped with some documents and finding a university that is best suited for her.

In finding the best suited school for Oizumi, the agency recommended Seattle to start her education. Similar to Bogel’s worry about getting lost when first coming to the U.S., the agency chose the West Coast for Oizumi because of the diversity within the region.

“I chose Seattle, then I came here and now I know why the agency recommended me (to Seattle)…,” Oizumi said.

“It was my first time feeling like I’m the minority,” Oizumi said.

So, what’s the real answer here?

Enrollment is going down and student visas can be troublesome for few, but can the decrease in international students be the cause from something specific?

A November 2018 article from The Washington Post questions if the president’s “nationalist rhetoric and policies” have an effect on potential students studying abroad. The article has responses from higher-education leaders across the nation, questioning if the president and administration is a reason for decreased enrollment of international students.

“Many factors influence where foreign students go to school, including the cost of coming to the United States and the growing capacity of higher education systems abroad,” the Washington Post said. “But some education leaders say Trump’s advocacy of immigration restrictions, travel bans and a U.S.-Mexico border wall is not helping the nation compete for academic talent in the global market.”

Most commentators have a similar reaction to the decrease, saying that it’s either one of these reasons, or a combination of both: financial costs of higher education and the president’s rhetoric and political atmosphere.

Bogel doesn’t think that President Trump “has been in those administrative affairs long enough for it to make a noticeable impact.” Where he is from, their reason for choosing not to study in the U.S. would be based on the people who elected the president, rather than the president himself.  

“A lot of people think that Americans are a lot dumber than they were before, simply because they elected Trump,” Bogel said. 

“It’s not just the president,” he said, “it’s what the people think of the crowd that elects the president.”

Oizumi lives with other international students, one from Nepal. In a recent conversation about studying abroad, her roommate told Oizumi that many Nepali people cannot come to the U.S. because of current politically related events. As a result, they choose to travel to the U.K. or Australia to study.

“I think both can effect (the decision to study in the U.S.), but more of the political side (than financial costs) because most international students are not going back home after graduating college here,” Oizumi said.

She continued to say that in some countries, graduates can find a job that utilizes their degree, but it will be at a lower pay grade than what they could find in the U.S. Due to this reason, they may want to stay in the U.S. after graduating, however, Oizumi said that some international students perceive that they can’t stay in the U.S because of President Trump and current politics.

“That’s why they are not coming here, because they cannot stay here after they graduate,” Oizumi said.

Bogel said one of the reasons international students may choose not to come to the U.S. to study is simply due to bias and prejudice. 

“There’s a lot of people upset with American politics and the way they view warfare and military, and of course one of the biggest prejudices is American Healthcare System,” Bogel said.

Cost or conversation?

Both students agreed that the financial burden could be more pertinent in the decision-making process than the “Trump effect” that the Washington Post article explained, but both also agreed that could change depending on where the student is from. 

Jackson said the international students he has spoke with at MSUM show no signs of leaving. He has only this comment on the issue of declining international student enrollment numbers.

“You can speculate that when other international students aren’t here, there may be some loss of camaraderie over some identification or of experience,” Jackson said.

The Forbes article mentions that students’ decisions from the countries involved with the travel ban may be affected, but since the overall enrollment is still dropping, the “primary reason for the trend lies at the bank rather than the visa office.”

1 Comment
  1. lance johnson says

    Sadly, Trump’s contentious issue is affecting enrollments and is yet one more thing that makes being an international student away from home difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language problems. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources, including the White House, to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey.
    Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.”
    Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    It explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest! Supporters of int’l students must shout louder.

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