International Students Are Growing in Number. What Does That Mean for Students in the U.S.?

Posted By Eliana Osborn on February 8, 2016 at 2:31 pm
International Students Are Growing in Number. What Does That Mean for Students in the U.S.?

The number of college students coming from outside the U.S. is increasing, coming close to one million this school year.  And for cash-starved campuses, international students are a boon, since they typically do not receive financial aid and pay more in tuition than local students.  However, some critics note that recruiting international students and focusing on a global market may mean universities are ignoring students and communities closer to home.

In 2014, the number of foreign undergraduates exceeded graduate students for the first time in history.  The PEW Research Center notes that foreign students are over-represented in the STEM fields; just under 12% of doctorates were awarded to international students in 2012-13, but they represented more than half of advanced degrees in engineering, statistics, computer sciences, and mathematics.

For colleges and universities, attracting top-tier students from around the world is a positive.  Having the best and brightest studying on your campus, winning awards and making new discoveries, is what research universities are all about.

International students are not eligible for public financial aid, whether that’s Pell grants or student loans.  They are not residents, so they pay out-of-state tuition rates—two or three times higher than what resident tuition would be.  Inside Higher Ed reports that some campuses also charge an international student fee, ranging from $500 a semester at places like Penn State to a proposed $1000 add-on by the University of Wisconsin.

As IHE explains, “Their tuition dollars come as welcome relief to public colleges that are under pressure to become more entrepreneurial.”  International students aren’t voters, so there’s very little pushback about charging them more money when there are shortfalls elsewhere.  Some schools use the additional funds for language and support services, but many others just add these fees into their general budget.

It isn’t just big four-year universities that are growing their international populations.  Even community colleges recruit foreign students, whether for athletics or other purposes.  At Green River College in Washington State, 1750 international students on campus are doing a lot for the school financially.

But community colleges have a very specific responsibility: to serve the public in their area.  A recent IHE article about the international student conundrum at Green River sheds light on the issue.  “We certainly understand the importance of having international students on the campus and what that can bring to the campus, but to me the primary mission of a community college is to serve the needs of our immediate community. I worry that we are moving away from that,” said Mark Thomason, chair of the social sciences division and a history instructor, to Inside Higher Ed.

Over the past decade, international student numbers have nearly tripled at Green River.  That’s a lot of change in not a lot of time.  Faculty fear that students are being imported simply for their financial help to the struggling school.  A more diverse student population is a positive, but it is changing the focus of the college.  40% of foreign students are part of a high school completion program, some as young as 16.  Shifting resources and faculty to that angle, as well as English as a Second Language classes, may not be serving the local community.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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