In 2016, the University of Tulsa consisted of 1,200 international students, versus 750 international students this year. graphic by Emma Palmer

International student enrollment notably down

With the overall national enrollment of international students falling, TU has taken a hit as well.

According to the Tulsa World, international students at TU have gone from “20 percent enrollment a few years ago to 12 percent this year” and may be around 10 percent this fall. The sharp decline has affected TU in a number of ways.

In March 2018, during an interview with CNN, Vice President of enrollment and student services Earl Johnson said he believes the Trump administration’s “America First mantra” causes international students to feel anxious about studying in the U.S.

“Also, the cost of college tuition has gone up 40 percent in the last 10 years. It’s weighing on them,” he continued.

The drop in international enrollment has hurt university revenue, and TU has placed a school official in China in hopes of recruiting more students.

However, this is not a problem centered at TU; it’s a national trend that has many universities feeling on edge. The number of new international students coming to the U.S. fell 10 percent in the last year, as reported by the Association of International Educators (NAFSA).

In the fall of 2017, NAFSA claims 45 percent of campuses “experienced an average of 7 percent drop in international student enrollment.” These decreases mark the first drops in total of new foreign students since the increased security in the aftermath of 9/11.
NAFSA’s research finds that international students are concerned with the social and political climate within the U.S., and they feel unwelcome due to this and the strict regulation on visas. Admissions officers reported to NAFSA that they receive increased questions from international students asking if it is actually possible to attend a U.S. school and if they would be safe.

Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, contributes some of the decrease due to China’s change in visa policy, which allows Chinese students to obtain an F-1 visa for a five-year period instead of a one-year period. The policy frees these students from having to renew their visa every year, and that change may hurt a growth of new students.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the government toughened the process to receive a H-1B foreign work visa, a popular pathway for high-skilled foreign workers. This decision was backed by Trump, who directed federal agencies to implement a “Buy American, Hire American” ideology, according to CNN. New graduates find it harder to remain in the country, and this could contribute to the deterrence of international students from applying to American universities.

In addition, the State Department said that it has revised its guidance to U.S. consulates that approve international student applications. Now, the agency emphasizes the consulates “must refuse” applicants if they are “not satisfied that the applicant’s present intent is to depart” from the U.S. when they completed their studies.
Worldwide competition for international students is critical. Goodman reports that while the U.S. used to account for almost half of all international students globally, “now about 24 percent of all international students come here.”

Instead, other countries like Germany, Canada and Australia are seeing growth due to employing programs and international outreach to recruit foreign students. This is coupled with the fact that it is easier for international students to stay in the country after they graduate and join the workforce.

NAFSA finds that total international students in the U.S. have reached one million, making this group important in a university’s revenue model. A decline in this population, they claim, “results in the cutting of programs or departments, laying off professors and stunting programs.”

Admissions officers can help by selecting students more efficiently and finding those who will stay and graduate.

When quoted in 2018, TU’s Earl Johnson said, “It’s a fairly uncertain time for all higher education institutions in the U.S. Right now, we feel the glass is half full.”
International students typically pay TU’s full tuition in cash, according to the Tulsa World. More schools compete for these students, and this coincides with TU’s loss in revenue. Still, TU continues its efforts to recruit international students and stabilize the enrollment.

The decrease of international students continues, however, and on campus it is easy to feel the ripple marks left by their absence. According to TU’s website, while there were approximately 1,200 international students from 79 countries in 2016, now there are around 750 students from 65 countries enrolled. Johnson worries this loss may affect the ability to deliver on its educational mission to offer an inclusive, diverse learning environment.

Post Author: Anna Johns