States’ bills could threaten foreign students’ aid, enrollment

A bill in Florida would restrict financial aid; one in Texas would cap enrollment.

Elizabeth Dunbar

International students from certain countries might not receive financial aid at Florida’s public universities if a bill introduced in the state Senate is passed.

Also, international enrollment would be capped at 10 percent for graduate and professional programs if a Texas state representative’s bill passes.

International admissions officials at the University of Florida – which, like Texas, has high international enrollment numbers – said the bills would dramatically reduce the number of international students at the universities.

Diane Fisher, a University of Florida admissions specialist, said few students from the seven countries on the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism attend the university.

Despite the low number, she said, if the bill passes it will send a strong message to all international students that they are not welcome in Florida.

“It would be extremely detrimental,” Fisher said.

Most of the University of Florida’s international students receive some type of funding, Fisher said.

The bill, authored by state Rep. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, passed out of the Senate Education Committee, but the House Judiciary Committee voted down a similar measure.

Fisher said giving international students state money is an investment for the universities.

“(International students) add a whole lot to our departments at the university,” she said. “These are highly qualified students, and we need them for teaching and research.

“Where do you think the brainpower comes from?” Fisher asked. “A lot of these students go on to become leaders and entrepreneurs in their home countries.”

At the University of Texas-Austin, international students comprise 30 percent of the graduate student body.

The bill that would cap international enrollment also states that if a degree program has fewer than 10 students, international enrollment is limited to one student.

The institutions are responsible for ensuring international enrollment does not exceed 10 percent, the bill states.

Craig Peterson, University International Student and Scholar Services assistant director, said he did not think the bills would pass, especially the one in Texas.

“My guess is that those legislators probably haven’t talked to anyone at those universities to see how things would be affected,” Peterson said.

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]