BY GENEVA NODLAND firstname.lastname@example.org
Higher education numbers show that international student enrollment is decreasing around the nation, including here at MSUM.
Even with the continuing decrease, MSUM is pushing forward and focusing on not only the international students already here, but also the potential students from around the world.
International student affairs office is restructured
Kimberly Gillette is the director of the Center for Global Engagement at MSUM, a department new to campus. Last year’s office for international student affairs has been renamed the Center for Global Engagement. Upon hiring Gillette this fall, it is also being restructured.
“(The Center) is basically a new rendition on our campus of how we’re working with global education and global issues and the mobility of students,” Gillette said.
In the past, there have been different areas on campus that worked with international students, but this year MSUM wanted to merge these groups. By targeting the students coming in and going out to study, they are attempting to globalize the campus.
“Students coming and going are a great thing, and they do add to the experience, but there’s more to it,” Gillette said.
The goal of the Center is directed at current and potential students, but with international enrollment still decreasing, Gillette and staff must find a way to overcome this trend.
Why is international student enrollment dropping?
In order to solve the issue, its source needs to be defined.
There have been many attempts to answer that question, according to a previous article from The Advocate: “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.”
Gillette has worked as director of International Programs at the University of Minnesota Crookston and has worked at MSUM in the past.
Over the years, she has worked with countless different students from many countries, and has seen the changes locally and nationally throughout the years concerning international policy.
“The government, and how the government interprets things, and what kind of atmosphere they have certainly does have an impact … ,” Gillette said. “Some people like to blame our government and current thoughts on that, and while that does have an impact, that’s not everything.”
With that being said, Gillette agrees heightened tuition is also a factor in the decrease of international student enrollment.
Listing the many fees international students are required to pay, Gillette said there are a few non-refundable fees needed before a student can receive their visa. This means if they don’t get their visa, they don’t get the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee or visa fee back.
“They have to pay a $250, currently, SEVIS fee before they can even make the application for the visa,” Gillette explained. “They pay a minimum (it depends on the country) cost of $180 for the visa.”
Gillette said there a few reasons why students wanting to study in the U.S. may get denied for a visa.
“It is getting harder for students to get visas from particular countries and for particular areas of study,” Gillette said.
She also said that if the U.S. denies a student a visa, they do not have to give a reason why.
In addition to heightened tuition and the U.S. political atmosphere, Gillette noted that the other reason enrollment is decreasing is due to the increasing competition in higher education internationally.
She explained that each country has push and pull factors.
“Some countries who have traditionally pushed their students out to have a better education have really started building the infrastructure and the education in their own countries,” Gillette said.
Along with the countries strengthening their education, places like Canada, the U.K. and Australia have offered an easier visa process for students.
Along with general competition, factors like working while in school and staying in the country post-graduation play a big part in the competition between countries. For example, Canada allows international students to work off campus while in school, something that is not allowed in the U.S. unless students go through a lengthy process with more fees. Gillette also said that they do not encourage students to stay in the country after graduating, whereas Canada, for example, has a “pathway” for students to gain Canadian citizenship.
“There are a lot of factors at play. It is a difficult time for international education in the U.S,” Gillette said.
With those three answers working together, it’s no wonder international student enrollment is declining. With that, Gillette and the Center for Global Engagement team are pushing toward helping current international students and welcoming potential students.
MSUM is still recruiting and always hoping to increase international student enrollment, but is also focusing on the students who are already in the U.S., specifically in two-year programs around the country. For now, one of Gillette’s goals is to “reexamine” with fresh eyes the studying abroad processes that MSUM offers.
Gillette said in the next year, she is focusing on building a foundation for the Center for Global Engagement.