Across the country, the number of international students has increased significantly in the last few years, contributing additional revenue to colleges and state economies, according to a November report by the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs. Rhode Island was no exception - in the 2011-12 academic year, international students and their families accounted for $191.2 million of the state's economy, according to the report. Last year, the number of international students in the state rose to 5,054, marking an increase of 143 between 2010 and 2012, according to the Providence Business News.
Since federal funding cuts have prompted public institutions to seek other sources of revenue, the rise in international students who pay out-of-state tuition has sparked questions about whether these institutions' international recruitment is financially driven. With decreasing public funding, "the revenue potential of international students takes on additional vigor," according to the report.
"International students for some institutions have become a means to broaden or diversify the institutions' revenue," said John Hudzik, who co-authored the NAFSA report and currently serves as vice president for global engagement and strategic projects at Michigan State University. But Hudzik said that for institutions that have historically admitted a large number of international students, increasing revenue is not the principal motivation, he added.
It is important for institutions of higher education not to view the role and value of international students solely in dollar terms, he said, though "the attraction of international students as a revenue source takes on an additional benefit," especially at smaller-level institutions.
A financial gain
Dania Brandford-Calvo, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars at the University of Rhode Island, a public institution, said the university admits international students based on their academic credentials and to increase the "cultural and national diversity" of the student body. But he acknowledged that those students do provide significant revenue both to the university and the state economy.
As in-state students pay "subsidized or discounted tuition," international students paying out-of-state tuition provide "a revenue stream," Brandford-Calvo said. She added that "there is no doubt that international student admissions represent a positive impact on the economy of a given region."
But admission of international students does not interfere with admission of domestic students, Brandford-Calvo added.
Rather than looking primarily to international student enrollment to compensate for the decline in federal funding, URI has expanded its summer and other special programs for international and domestic students as a means of increasing revenue.
Dual degree programs that span two countries play an important role in the university's diversification and economic success. Students in such programs "are gaining a degree from their nation and our nation, and they're paying in their nation and our nation," Brandford-Calvo said. "In the end, they are the winner."
Johnson and Wales University, a private university where international students pay the same tuition as domestic and in-state students, held the highest number of international students in the state in the 2011-12 academic year, with 2,093 international students attending and contributing $64.5 million to the economy, according to Providence Business News. These students hail from more than 90 different countries at the university's four campuses, according to its website. As of 2010, Johnson and Wales ranked 83rd in the country for international student enrollment, according to that year's Open Doors report. For the same year, the university's Alan Shawn Feinstein Graduate School ranked sixth among master's degree institutions.
One reason for its current lead in foreign student attendance could be the diversity of academic programs offered, said Miriam Weinstein, communications and media relations manager at Johnson and Wales' Providence campus - the largest of its four campuses. "The international student population has always been an important one to Johnson and Wales," she said, particularly in the hospitality and culinary areas of study. These "global-reaching industries," in addition to the university's college of business and school of technology, naturally attract students from around the world, she said, and the most represented countries are China, South Korea and Taiwan.
Roger Williams University has also experienced "extreme growth in international student population" over the last few years, said Michael Vieira, an international admission counselor. "We continue to grow our international recruitment efforts, recognizing that our international population really adds diversity" to the university, he said. The university's professional schools and liberal arts programs "gives us a high appeal abroad," he said.
The NAFSA report predicts a 150 percent increase in the total number of students around the globe, projecting that it will reach 250 million by 2025. It also predicts that "global competition among students will intensify," especially as countries such as China, South Korea, Mexico and Russia increase their recruitment efforts for incoming students.
Students from China, India and South Korea account for 46 percent of total international enrollment in the United States, according to the NAFSA report. The total number of international enrollments increased by 5.7 percent over the last year, rising to 764,495, according to a November article in the Chronicle. For the first time in 11 years, the number of international undergraduate students exceeds the number of international graduate students in the United States, according to the article.
The trend of higher international enrollment will continue both because American institutions welcome international students and because many other countries do not have sufficient resources to accommodate them, according to Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president of the Institute of International Education.
"Certainly those students who come from abroad and are able to pay for their full tuition at an out-of-state student rate are going to be very welcome at public institutions," she said. Such institutions rely on these full tuitions so that they may maintain in-state rates for in-state students and keep their departments open to al
l students, she said.
"I don't think it's just finances that are driving this either at public or private universities," she said, adding that schools need to teach "in a way that encompasses international students' perspectives" to internationalize education for American students.
Bringing it home
Brown boasts the Ocean State's second highest number of enrolled international students, with 1,446 foreign students in 2011-12, according to Providence Business News. These students provided $59.5 million to the state economy.
"We don't look at international students as a unique revenue source," said Provost Mark Schlissel P'15. "We look at them as an essential component of the student body."
Though Brown is not currently need-blind for international students, it allocates a specific budget to help those students attend every year, Schlissel said. The University increased its financial aid to extend aid to one-third of international students, while its commitment for domestic students is 45 percent, said Jim Miller '73, dean of admission. Financial aid has grown faster than the tuition rate over the last decade, he said, including for international students. The number of international students receiving aid has increased by 80 percent since 2007-08, he said.
Extending need-blind admission to international students would require an increase in tuition across the board or greater fundraising, which "would certainly end up challenging the University's budget," he said.
"The bottom line for us is that there's absolutely no financial incentive built into our international admission," Miller said. "It's very important for Brown students to become culturally literate and for students from other countries to come and learn about the U.S."
- With additional reporting by Mathias Heller