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Report: Fewer International Students Applying to US Colleges


FILE - Sally Kim takes notes during a physics class at Columbia Independent School in Columbia, Mo., Feb. 27, 2012. Kim's parents, who live in South Korea, sent her to live with relatives in Columbia for a better education that provides more collegiate op

U.S. college applications from foreign students for the next school year appear to have slowed, with 39 percent of responding universities reporting declines in the number of undergraduate applications from countries in the Middle East, according to a new report.

In 2016, 1.2 million international students attended American colleges and universities. That is an increase of 6.5 percent from the year before and the highest number ever.

But it appears the steady growth in the number of international students may not last.

A new report by the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers says four out of 10 U.S. colleges reported fewer international applications. However, final numbers are not yet available to determine if schools have seen a drop overall.

Michael Reilly, the association’s executive director, said there may be fewer applicants because some people see America “becoming less welcoming of international students.”

Reilly said colleges are telling students “their studies or travels will not be disrupted by future policy changes.”

Applications down from India

Wim Wiewel, president of Portland State University in Oregon, said his school saw a 37 percent reduction in applications from India for the new school year.

Most of the decrease, he said, is because of recent monetary changes in India. Those changes have some parents worried they might not be able to afford the cost of an American college education.

But, he added, some parents also worry about their children’s safety after several recent attacks on Indian immigrants in the United States. In the worst attack, two engineers from India were shot last month at a bar in the state of Kansas.

One of the engineers, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, died. Police said the attacker told the two men they are not welcome in America.

Engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was shot and killed last month at a bar in the state of Kansas. (Kuchibhotla family/Via
Engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was shot and killed last month at a bar in the state of Kansas. (Kuchibhotla family/Via

Wiewel recently traveled to Hyderabad in southern India to meet with 10 students already admitted to his school’s graduate engineering program. The students’ parents worry about their safety. His meeting came just after a funeral in Hyderabad for the Kansas shooting victim.

“I tried to reassure them that America is still very safe and very welcoming to international students,” he said.

At Portland State, about 1,900 of the school’s nearly 28,000 students are from outside the United States. Students from outside Oregon pay about three times the $8,000 tuition paid by state residents. The extra money helps the school improve its educational offerings, Wiewel said.

International student experience

Mahamadou Sissoko, 22, is from Mali in West Africa. The finance major is finishing his senior year at Portland State University.

Sissoko said his experiences at Portland State have been mostly good -- after a difficult start as he worked to improve his English skills.

He said that President Donald Trump’s effort to put in place a ban on immigration from six Muslim majority nations does not affect him directly. But he said the “anti-immigrant” message he hears from the president and others worries him.

International student Mahamadou Sissoko, 22, is from Mali in West Africa.
International student Mahamadou Sissoko, 22, is from Mali in West Africa.

As Sissoko sees it, he and other international students benefit by learning about American culture. But, he said, they help American students learn about their countries’ cultures, too.

“Some American students can’t or don’t want to travel outside the U.S.,” Sissoko said. “They don’t have to. We are coming to them. And they can get to know us.”

As a Muslim, he said Portland State gives him a chance to practice his religion.

“It isn’t perfect,” he said. Prayers are held in a room that is below a room used for musical performances. “It is supposed to be a silent place.”

The countries with the largest number of students studying at U.S. colleges in 2016 were: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada. Other countries on the list included Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil and Mexico.

That information comes from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Special consideration?

Some question if colleges are giving special consideration to international students, who often pay higher tuition.

Last year, California State Auditor Elaine Howle said state colleges were accepting too many students from outside California. That includes international students and students from other U.S. states.

As a result, Howle said, qualified state residents were being denied admission to their top choices for college. In some cases, she said, the colleges lowered admission standards to admit non-state residents who pay higher tuition.

California state colleges collect an average of $28,000 per year from state residents for tuition and living costs like rooms and food. But they receive nearly twice as much from non-residents.

Because of this issue, the California University board is considering a proposal to limit the three California colleges with the largest percentage of out-of-state students to their current percentages. The three schools are UCLA in Los Angeles, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Diego. More than 20 percent of their students currently come from out-of-state.

Gene Block, the chancellor at UCLA, recently spoke to the board. He told the group that money received from non-California residents helped the school offer more educational programs to all its students.