News Track: As predicted, Iowa regent campuses see fewer international students

Loss affects the universities's bottom line, as those students pay more

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Last fall’s election and rhetoric around border security and immigration prompted some to voice concern about potential fallout on college campuses, specifically enrollment of international students.

When President Donald Trump in January announced a temporary immigration ban from seven Muslim-majority countries, some visiting scholars who had planned to be on the University of Iowa and Iowa State University campuses canceled their plans. Others experienced delays and related family issues, and university leaders voiced concern the White House message might hurt international enrollment.

In a counteractive move, then-ISU President Steven Leath issued a statement reiterating his school welcomes students and faculty from across the globe. Downing Thomas, UI associate provost and dean of UI International Programs, likewise delivered a message espousing the campus’ history of diversity and inclusion and reminding the community all students are welcome. UI President Bruce Harreld affirmed that statement and has said he’s worked with international students to make sure his campus meets their needs.

In May, ISU Interim President Ben Allen reiterated his campus was taking extra measures to make sure those enroll from abroad feel supported.

But in the ensuing weeks and months, both universities voiced expectations international student enrollment would be down.


Those predictions have become reality.

A new Board of Regents enrollment report made public last week in anticipation of next week’s board meeting shows total international enrollment across the UI, ISU and University of Northern Iowa dropped by 533 students, or about 6.4 percent.

For years, international enrollment on the campuses had been rising steadily, especially in students from China. Take for example the UI, which saw its overall international enrollment double from 2,153 in 2007 to 4,300 in 2016.

In that time, UI’s Chinese enrollment more than quadrupled from 569 to 2,679.

But according to the new board report, the university this fall reported a decrease of 516 international students, or 14.2 percent below last fall. The drop, according to board documents, largely is linked to a one-year loss of 407 students from China.

ISU reported a one-year drop of 134 Chinese students, although it saw growth from some other countries that softened its overall loss to only 16.

UNI also had just a slight overall international student decline, as its Chinese student enrollment actually grew 19 students.

The drop in international enrollment hurts the universities’ bottom lines, as those students pay significantly more than students from Iowa. Undergraduate international students at ISU, for example, are paying a $22,306 tuition rate this fall, compared with the resident undergraduate rate of $7,456.

Higher-than-expected resident enrollment last fall resulted in tuition revenue below expectations, according to a separate board report.

When asked about the international decline, UI International Programs Dean Thomas cited “landscape issues” including increased competition for the students — within the United States and globally — and “perceptions and reality of U.S. visa and immigration policy.”

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