Where have international students gone?

Overall, undergraduate international applications at the UI are experiencing a dip because of a multitude of potential factors.


By Isabella Senno

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Across the nation, 39 percent of colleges are experiencing overall declines in the number of international student applications, according to a survey released in late February by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.At the University of Iowa, this trend may also be being felt, with slight dips in both undergraduate and graduate student demographics.

“Attribution [of the cause] is very difficult when you’re analyzing trends in international admissions. It is so multidimensional; there are country-specific factors that would have an impact,” said Kirk Kluver, director of UI Undergraduate Admissions. “There’s other macro factors, economic, political factors … that can really impact students.”

The survey reported drops in applicants from three areas — the Middle East, China, and India. According to Kluver, undergraduate application numbers are currently split across the board with decreases in China and increases in India, with Middle Eastern countries are either staying steady or dipping slightly.

These dips in Chinese applicants are significantly impacting the number of expected first-year applicants for fall 2017. Kluver said that in the fall of 2016, the UI hit a record 5,000 international applicants by the end of its cycle, and currently the projected number of international applicants for fall 2017 is approximately 3,700, a loss of about 1,300 potential students.

This decrease in undergraduate applicants may simply be a natural plateauing.

“There really has been pretty incredible growth in terms of our number of international applicants in terms of first-year students over the years,” Kluver said. “You can’t consistently see year-over-year large increases in applications and expect that continue until the end of time. I think we had a reasonable expectation that there would be a time where that would taper off, and I think we’re seeing that a little bit now.”

As for graduate students, the number of international applicants has remained relatively steady.

“Right now, as of this time of the year compared to this time of the year last year, we’re actually right on par with number of applications from international students,” said John Keller, the dean of the Graduate college. “We have 25 more international applications this time right now than we did last year so the overall number of applications … really hasn’t changed much.”

Keller also noted although the application process was still incomplete, both the number of students admitted to the UI graduate programs and the number of students who decided to enroll at the UI remained the same as from last year.

However, the graduate programs have also been hit by a decrease in the number of Chinese applicants. According to Keller, there has been about an 8 percent decline over the last two to three years among this demographic.

These overall dips in applicants are tied up within several international and national factors. According to the American Association survey, the recent debates over immigration affairs have 79 percent of Middle Eastern applicants and 36 percent of Asian applicants worried, but increasing amount of competition from other institutions is another potential source for the decline.

“There are a lot more U.S. institutions now that are aggressively recruiting overseas and I would also say there are a lot of other institutions in other countries that are aggressively recruiting as well,” Kluver said. “Australia, New Zealand, Canada, I think that those have been increasingly popular destinations for students who are also looking at colleges and universities in the United States.”

Competition may also come from within the international students’ home countries.

“Education … is very costly for international students. There have been universities in the Middle East and other countries that have been rising up through the rankings and people have started to think that they are a better value for money rather than sending their children abroad,” said Hammad Mazhar, director of budget for the Pakistani Students Association. “The quality of university that you can get at home is also a major factor in the decisions of international students coming in.”

Looking forward, the future is a bit unclear at this point.

“Things seem to be rapidly changing in the international political climate so that’s hard to predict what’s going to happen down the line but if recent trends are and forbearing of the future I’d say we’re still going to have a very robust international application rate,” Keller said. “It’s probably going to vary any given year from country to country or region to region … but I wouldn’t expect it to change dramatically.”

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