International students decline, and so do American university budgets

A slowdown in the number of international students heading to American colleges and universities has started putting pressure on those campuses while surprising none of my readers, according to the New York Times.  All right, the Times didn’t assess your savvy, but you get the idea.

To recap: American higher ed has aggressively sought out foreign students for years and for various reasons, financial and diversity-related.  Yet over the past year that rising tide has paused or declined.

Why?  Trump is one obvious reason.  Another cause, not well understood in the US, is what Stephanie Saul describes as “the increasing lure of schools in Canada, Australia and other English-speaking countries.”  Remember what I’ve been saying for years, that higher education is increasingly becoming a single, transnational marketplace.

Saul adds other reasons:

Officials said that other reasons for the decline in enrollment include increased competition from schools in other countries, cuts in scholarship programs in Saudi Arabia and Brazil, and a currency crisis in India caused when the government decided to swap widely used notes for new bills.

Recall, too, my emphasis on declining enrollment in American higher ed, when Saul observes that “[t]he shift comes just as some states also are experiencing a drop in domestic students, partly the result of a decline in birthrates two decades ago…”

For years, American colleges had been staking their futures on continued growth in foreign students, and after the recession a decade ago, those students were a lifeline for colleges that had poured money into new buildings and amenities.

Just think about what this means for an awful lot of colleges and universities.  Dependent on tuition for revenue (very, very few have powerful endowments; most states have drastically cut per-student support), these institutions are utterly committed to getting students in the door. They will market themselves energetically and build up campus support systems.  Saul gives an Ohio example of the latter: “In just the past six months, the University of Akron opened an international center in an existing building and hired 10 employees to work in international programming.”

That very open and welcoming door, recently crowded, is starting to show some empty spaces now.  That means program cuts:

Budget cuts are underway….

Wright State has decided to eliminate Italian, Russian and Japanese, part of more than $30 million in budget cuts…

[The University of Central Missouri] has been forced to cut instructors in computer programs, where many of the foreign students were enrolled, as well as defer maintenance and shave money from other departments, such as the campus newspaper.

This international decline also means human losses:

At Kansas State, Italian classes are going the way of the Roman Empire…

Other cuts included the full-time French horn and tuba professors, both one year short of tenure protection. The school had asked both to remain as adjunct professors with reduced pay. Instead, they landed other jobs, and adjuncts have taken their positions at Wright State.

When I first wrote about peak higher education nearly five years ago I was hoping to be dissuaded from that dark idea.  Instead, reality just keeps confirming my model.

PS: extra kudos to reporter Saul for focusing on midwestern schools.

(thanks to Tim Lepczyk)

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2 Responses to International students decline, and so do American university budgets

  1. Heidi Harrigan says:

    There is definitely a lot more competition in this arena now. In the Netherlands alone, a number of universities including Leiden have built up impressive international honors colleges https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/governance-and-global-affairs/leiden-university-college-the-hague. Some of their faculty have even come from Ohio!

  2. Pingback: Three more hints from the future | Bryan Alexander

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