American universities are at serious risk of losing a valuable piece of their enrollment. After years of steady growth, international student applications are steadily declining. A survey conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers yielded some worrying data about why this decline is occurring. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed cited difficulty or denials in their visa applications, 57 percent cited the political environment in the U.S. and 54 percent cited more attractive universities in the U.K. and Australia.
The urgency of reversing this trend cannot be understated. International students bring enrollment, culture and prestige to the U.S. higher education system. UAA must recognize this and lead the effort to attract more international students.
Enrollment data is the simplest, quantifiable method for understanding how international students enhance our academic experience. UAA welcomed 329 international students in the fall semester of 2017. The majority of those pursued bachelor’s degrees and nearly half paid non-resident tuition. International students contribute nearly $11 million to the Alaskan economy, according to data from the Open Doors program at the U.S. Department of State. Eighty-two percent of international undergraduate students pay tuition in the U.S. from their personal or family sources. Thirty-one percent of international graduate students pay tuition through research grants obtained from the U.S. federal government. Either way, UAA receives a meaningful influx of tuition revenue from being an internationally desirable university.
Culture is an unquantifiable resource that international students also bring to the US. These contributions are largely intangible, but no less integral to the healthy academic environment modern universities must have. Today’s students will enter a workforce that is more globalized than ever before in history. It is imperative that they develop their education in a similarly globalized environment. International students help create that atmosphere, especially if they are encouraged to be vocal about perspectives contrary to American assumptions.
Students must learn how to better collaborate with people from different backgrounds. A sizable presence of international students makes that possible. Many assume that they can already do this, but the research casts some doubt. A study submitted to the American Sociological Association provided evidence that many people subconsciously prefer to work with others of the same cultural background. Even hiring managers are exercising a “cultural matching” bias. Cultural immersion in higher education yields one of the antidotes to this problem. Future workers with a history of multicultural collaboration will treat workplace diversity as a normality instead of a novelty.
Prestige is an aspect that UAA could always use more of. International students foster a tradition of collaboration that boosts the university’s intellectual output just as much as its workforce output. UAA’s intellectual output is best defined in its research publications. When international students collaborate with domestic students and instructors on such publications, the experience benefit is mutually shared. Collaborative research tends to be more compelling in a globalized structure where peer review itself is international. In fact, the rate of publications citing a foreign co-author is rising exponentially, according to a report by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society. For UAA to be competitive, its students must develop experience in transnational, collaborative research. If UAA has a tradition of education like that, as well as widely-reviewed and recognized publications, then its overall standing as a public research university is improved.
The benefits that UAA derives from international students are recognized and praised in this article. The next question is how UAA can attract more foreign applicants and give them the best possible experience while they are here. The most meaningful policy that UAA can pursue is by expanding resident tuition options to international students. Currently, international students can be exempted from the non-resident tuition surcharge if they come from a Sister City of Anchorage. UAA should increase its efforts to establish new Sister City agreements in more cities around the world. It can do this by lobbying the Municipality of Anchorage or the State of Alaska. This would expand UAA’s exposure to a wider audience of foreign students who are interested in studying here but cannot afford the non-resident tuition.
UAA already has an advantage in its location. Alaska is a very interesting place to study, especially if the international student comes from a region with a radically different climate or urban density. UAA International Student Services does good work in guiding the applicant through the process and assisting them when they arrive. Other elements of the university need to pitch in as well. UAA Faculty Senate supported a motion this semester towards the reinstatement of the English as a Second Language program. USUAA should announce support of such programs as well.
Part of UAA’s international strategy must be designed by policy-makers in departments, but the other part is a grassroots effort by UAA domestic students to welcome and engage international students. Talk to them, learn about their country, invite them to events and help build a positive experience for them. They are Alaska’s guests. We should reward their contributions here with hospitality and friendship.