Int’l student numbers reach lull

The number of international students who have enrolled at the U continues to rise but at a slower rate than previous years.

Brian Edwards

At the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, one in every eight students comes from abroad. 
The amount of international students at the campus has increased every year since 2006, but the rate at which international students have increased has grown significantly smaller since 2011. Administrators say this is because the school has grown more selective in how it chooses international students after reaching enrollment goals. 
The University currently ranks 17th in the country for the most international students. International students make up 4.8 percent of the total student population in the U.S.
Nationwide, the number of international students has increased since 2002, said Ben Iverson, international enrollment management representative at the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors. 
Sarah Gao, an economics sophomore and an international student from China, said she applied to the University after she saw that the school was ranked high in many science-based fields, which she originally intended to pursue. 
But she said some friends and family in China have decided to study in their home country for a variety of reasons, one of them being the high cost of education in the U.S.
“Part of the reason is finance,” she said. “Others because it is more comfortable to stay in their home country.”
Still, she said she’s happy with her choice to go abroad for her education.
In 2015, the percentage of international students at the University’s Twin Cities campus grew to about 13 percent, an increase of about .24 percent from the previous year. But in 2011, the amount of international students increased by about 1.11 percent.
If the percentage of international students that make up the total student population continues to shrink at that average rate, international student enrollment would be nearly flat next year.
Still, a diminished international student growth rate isn’t because fewer students applied, school officials said.
Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said the school set an undergraduate student population goal of 5 percent international students. The University reached that goal in 2008.
University leaders noticed during the mid-2000s that it was lagging behind rival Big Ten schools in the amount of undergraduate international students and decided to set a goal, said Barbara Kappler, assistant dean of International Student and Scholar Services.  
“Up to 2011, you are seeing pretty steep growth,” she said.
McMaster said since then the University has been more selective in the amount of students it accepts and has added international students at a slower rate.
“We are being very thoughtful and want to provide the best experience to these students,” he said.
Last year, the University accepted 337 of about 5,400 international undergraduate students who 
applied, McMaster said. The number of international transfer students has also increased, he said. 
While the number of international applicants continues to rise, McMaster said, the rise has slowed.
Financial Ramifications
International students at the University pay the same tuition rate as out-of-state students, which was nearly $21,000 for undergraduates this year. About 28 percent of all students on the Twin Cities campus pay that rate.
The National Association of Foreign Student Advisors showed that Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, where the campus is located, brought in almost $170 million dollars last school year because of international students.
In the past, members of the Board of Regents and legislators have pointed to out-of-state tuition rates as a way for the school to keep costs low for in-state students.
But McMaster said the slowing rate of international students will not hurt the University financially.
“One thing that is not done,” he said, “is to recruit students just to generate tuition revenue,” adding that the number of national out-of-state students at the University has increased, which would balance any slowing rate of acceptance of international students.
And since the University is able to be selective about the international students it accepts, the school is not at risk of having the amount of international students begin to decrease, McMaster said.
As Minnesota begins to see fewer high school graduates in the state, Iverson said it’s important to continue to attract international students.
“The demand is certainly there,” Iverson said. “I see that continuing to grow in the future.”
Regent Michael Hsu said discussion about enrollment strategy is set for the upcoming December Board of Regents meeting.
He said the out-of-state tuition numbers paid by international students isn’t necessarily slated for discussion, but he plans to bring it up.
There is a widespread feeling on the board that the school will raise out-of-state tuition to be closer to market value to help generate more revenue, Regent Laura Brod said.