Enrollment Declines: Fewer International Students Choose Clark

(Photo provided by Clark College)

International Enrollment is down at Clark, and recent national policy and immigration reform might be responsible, according to Clark administrators and students.

International student enrollment has declined seven percent in the United States since last fall, the first decline in years, with a six percent loss in Washington from Fall 2016-17, according to data provided by Director of International Programs Jane Walster.  She said that losing students impacts the campus’ cultural diversity and its budget.

Beka Yosef, a first year international student from Ethiopia, said he doesn’t think current immigration policies are helping people. “My friends and family are amazed that there would be a wall boundary between two countries,” Yosef said. “I’m surprised because most places in Africa don’t have a wall.”

Yosef said he would like to see more people able to travel to the United States, and that immigration policies should make it easier for people to travel here.

He was required to take an English proficiency test, be interviewed by a consulate official, provide transcripts from schools, submit application forms costing hundreds of dollars, prove with bank statements he has one year’s worth of financial support about $20,000 for Clark and prove his intent to return to Ethiopia.  “For people from my country, it is really hard to get this opportunity to come and study here,” Yosef said.

Clark has received 11 international student applications for Spring quarter. Walster said the number is considered low, especially since only a third of applicants are expected to attend.

“The number of students coming into the United States is down this year, and the number of students going to Canada is up by 22 percent, Germany up by 6 percent, Australia up by 14 percent,” Walster said. “ So we know where students are going.”  

Walster said that exit interviews from Clark international students and reports from the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit institution that promotes international study, said “incidents of violence or at least unfriendly attitudes” are some of the concerns of international students and their families. An IIE fall admissions survey of Middle Eastern students reported that 50 percent were concerned about securing and maintaining visas and 41 percent reported concerns about feeling unwelcome in the United States.

Walster said that visa insecurity became very serious after 9/11 and the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She said Immigrations and Customs is just one department under Homeland Security that has database access to all international student information in the United States and their homes abroad.

Walster said this year Immigration and Customs Enforcement called her and said they may no longer be able to give advance warning if there is a problem with an international student.  “They are trying to be helpful, but the message from above is that security is tightening up,” Walster said.

International student numbers at Clark have fluctuated in the past five years, from a surge of students from Saudi Arabia to the impact of the nationwide decline. The number of Saudi students began increasing in 2013 and within a year comprised 60 percent of Clark international students.  Walster said. International student numbers at Clark have fluctuated in the past five years because of issues such as Saudi Arabian budget cuts and U.S. immigration reform. Within three years, from Fall 2014-17, the number of Saudi students at Clark decreased from 130 to one according to enrollment data.

And this isn’t just a problem at Clark. International Student Recruitment & Outreach Manager Jody Shulnak said that during a recent South American recruitment tour, everyone from community colleges to Ivy League schools reported their numbers were down too.  “We’re not opening doors, we’re creating more barriers,” Shulnak said.  “Everything in the world affects international students.”

Shulnak travels abroad two to four times a year to showcase the school and recruit students, a constant process as students come and go. “It takes a lot to bring them in, and it seems so easy for them to leave,” She said.

Shulnak described the recruitment process between schools as cordial, but extremely competitive. She said Clark competes with universities that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for recruiting and marketing in a $39 billion industry.  “We have advertisements in several different languages around the world,” Shulnak said.

During Fall 2017, 18 students from Vietnam represented Clark’s largest international group. International Admission Manager Nguyen Huynh recruits throughout Vietnam once or twice a year, from the capital of Hanoi to the southern cities of Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang and Hue. He said Vietnamese people are attracted to U.S. cities like Seattle and San Francisco, that a surprising number live in Minnesota, and that the United States houses almost two million Vietnamese people, more than any other country.

Huynh said that the international student downturn is due to the current administration’s policies.  “I’ve never seen the U.S. be number two,” Huynh said. “We are no longer number one in increasing enrollment numbers comparative to Canada and Australia.”

Vietnam is a successful market for international students due to a rising middle class according to Walster. She said the Vietnamese economy is good and is bolstered by Vietnamese Americans who send money home to help their families.

At Clark, international tuition is three times what domestic students pay, creating extra revenue for the international program and campus general fund according to Walster.  “This is big business, international students in the United States and all around the world, because they represent out-of-state tuition,” Walster said.  “For schools, that cash flow along with the diversity that it brings is really significant. It’s a great place to learn about a culture that’s very different from ours … Having been in this profession for around 30 years, it does go up and down depending on things happening in the world and the United States. So this is a time of challenge, but it will change. The pendulum will swing back, and hopefully soon.”

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misquoted Beka Yosef, it has been updated to correct that error.

1 Comment on Enrollment Declines: Fewer International Students Choose Clark

  1. Sam Bivens // March 8, 2018 at 7:52 am // Reply

    The article goes to certain lengths to make it appear that the current US immigration policies relating to Yosef and international students are somehow related to the current White House administration. However, this is not the case.

    I agree that we need to overhaul immigration, yet the article almost persuades me to say we need tighter regulation rather than looser policy. Yosef himself, taking what seems to me to be a position of entitlement, makes several statements that cause me to lean toward more conservative immigration even though I am liberal.

    Yosef states, “My friends and family are amazed that there would be a wall boundary between two countries,” Yosef said. “I’m surprised because most places in Africa don’t have a wall.”

    Well, Yosef, most places in Africa may not have electricity, indoor plumbing, and access to necessary medicine for a happy and content life. The statement that “most places in Africa do not have…” is irrelevant and sounds unsophisticated and immature. This is an illogical statement to make. I question why the Indy would publish this and what a wall has to do with foreign students studying in the US?

    The article continues in reference to Yosef, “Yosef said the process of applying for a student visa proved his intent to study, not immigrate. He said it wasn’t complicated for him, but that it does exclude many people.”

    Any process to study or immigrate is quite intensive and complicated. I have been studying, living, and working abroad for at least 30 years. This is common practice not only in the USA but in every country I have lived, studied, and worked in. Bottom line when applying for a visa is to prove to host county authorities that you do NOT intend to immigrate. Be prepared to an intense process.

    Yosef continues, “Yosef said he would like to see more people able to travel to the United States. “This country’s immigration policy should make more easy, legal ways to come into the country and make a living,” One has to question why, if an international student does not intend to to immigrate, why they need to “make a living” while here? Hmnnn.

    The article continues in this trajectory, “He was required to take an English proficiency test, be interviewed by a consulate official, provide transcripts from schools, submit application forms costing hundreds of dollars, prove with bank statements he has one year’s worth of financial support — about $20,000 for Clark — and prove his intent to return to Ethiopia. “For people from my country, it is really hard to get this opportunity to come and study here,” Yosef said.”

    This is all common to immigration policies anywhere. Why state them here as if this is somehow out of the ordinary? Go study in any country that is not your own, you will be asked to prove language proficiency, be interviewed at the consulate, provide transcripts, bank statements, and so on. There is no lack of justice in requiring an international student to prove he or she does not intend to immigrate, is able to study in the local language, and has the money to pay for the education.

    The fact of the matter is that being an Ethiopian, Yosef is quite privileged to come here. Yet at the same time, he appears to be bashing the very country he has come to study at. I am assuming that in his home country he is privileged as his family has the wealth and the status (Ethiopia??? Yes, for Yosef to come here and study is an indication of his family’s wealth) of family and friends back home.

    Rather than being grateful to his family (for the finances) and to the country (the USA welcomed him here) for the opportunity to come and study, the article makes Yosef appear petulant, selfish and uncharitable.

    I disagree with much of America’s immigration policies. I also disagree much with the current presidential administration’s position on immigration Bottom line is that there is nothing “abnormal” about how the US conducts immigration or the grating of student visas. These student visa policies DID NOT start with the people who currently reside in the White House. They have been around for as long as I can remember.

    Basically the Indy interviewed a privileged rich kid from Ethiopia and is attempting to make us feel sorry for him. Too much doesn’t add up in your portrayal of Yosef and his statements. Much can also be questioned about the rest of the articles statements regarding international student decline, recruitment, and how international students seem to be flocking to Canada, Australia and other countries that arent America!

    I will give Yosef the benefit of the doubt. Welcome to the USA Yosef and may your time here be fruitful beyond your expectations. I am glad you are here.

    I will not give the Indy the benefit of the doubt. Too many biased articles with a lack of objective reporting. Try being authentic next time.

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