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US colleges slash budgets as international students shy away

Schools in the Midwest have been hit hard by the loss of Indian and Chinese students who pay the full freight to study in America.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   11-01-2018
Wright State University, Ohio, US
Wright State University, in Ohio, is among a slew of US colleges cutting back on programs because of declines in foreign student enrollment.

American universities that have come to rely heavily on tuition from international students have been forced to make sweeping budget cuts, brought on, in large part, by a loss of international students.

“President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies have resulted in a decline in international student enrolment. This has put a strain on college budgets,” said Mary Larkey, who provides support services for international students.

“It’s been an open secret all along. Internationals students from countries like India and China pay top dollar and help to keep US campus finances humming,” said Larkey. 

By the reckoning of the Institute of International Education, the slump follows a decade of frenzied growth in foreign student enrollment, which topped 1 million at US colleges for the first time during the 2015-16 academic year. They spent $39 billion last year and US schools have become increasingly dependent on that revenue.

“Schools in the Midwest have been particularly hard hit — many of them non-flagship public universities that had come to rely heavily on tuition from foreign students, who generally pay more than in-state students,” reported “The New York Times.”

According to a survey of 500 colleges by the Institute of International Education, the number of new foreign students declined an average of 7 percent nationwide this past fall. Trump's travel ban and hard line immigration policies have not only put off students from the Middle East and Muslim majority countries, but slowed student traffic from India and China, which together provide nearly half of America's international students.

India sent the second highest number of students, with 186,000 students in the US last fall, up 12 percent. However, this expansion pales in comparison to the scorching 24.9 percent growth in the 2015-2016 academic year and 29.4 percent growth in 2014-2015.

US universities are resorting to budget tightening to offset the loss of tuition fees from international students. “The New York Times” reported that at the University of Central Missouri, The Muleskinner, the biweekly campus newspaper, is publishing online-only this year, saving $35,000 in printing costs. Similarly, at Kansas State, “Italian classes are going the way of the Roman Empire,” while Wright State University in Ohio, has eliminated Italian, Russian, Japanese and music classes, part of more than $30 million in budget cuts. Sadly, the university’s first rate swimming team will cease to exist in April, even after five of its members recently competed at the USA Winter Nationals.

Now that the revenue stream appears to be contracting, the financial outlook may be grim enough to weigh down the bond ratings of some US schools, making it more expensive for them to borrow money, according to Moody’s Investors Service. In a report, the agency cited financial strains — mainly muted growth in tuition revenue — at both public and private four-year institutions. In December, Moody's revised the 2018 outlook for US higher education to “negative” from “stable.”

“Growing uncertainty for international student enrollment stems from immigration policies that are in flux,” Moody’s said, warning that universities without global brand recognition would be hit hardest.

The University of Akron in Ohio opened a large International Center catering to foreign students’ recruitment and immigration needs in September, but their numbers fell this past semester.

Matthew Wilson, the president of the University of Akron, said that students from India were reporting increased scrutiny of their visa applications, one of the reasons for a drop of about 200 international students. The University of Akron has 1,145 international students, with the largest numbers from Saudi Arabia, China and India.

Uttara Choudhury is a writer for Forbes India and The Wire. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.



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