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International Enrollment Declining At Some Ohio Universities

Students gather around a laptop computer in an Ohio State University classroom.
Ohio State University

International students make up 23 percent of the enrollment in Ohio graduate programs, but new data shows, nationally, that number took a hit last year and is trickling down to Ohio schools.

A report from the National Science Foundation, a federally run research agency, shows that after nearly a decade of consistent growth, the number of international undergraduate students with the visas declined by 2.2 percent in 2017, while graduate student enrollment dropped by 5 and a half percent.

The numbers are based on participation in the federal government’s F-1 visa program.

NSF researcher Jaquelina Falkenheim says one year of data doesn’t yet make a trend, but if international enrollment continues to decline, it could have negative impacts, including on the workforce available to take highly skilled science and engineering jobs.

“There’s fewer U.S. citizens [studying] in that area so some of those [international] students tend to stay on another visa and they contribute to the United States at this very high level,” she said.

More than the workforce, though, Falkenheim said the decreased enrollment has a negative impact on the budgets of universities that rely on the higher tuition paid by international students.

That’s been the case at Wright State University near Dayton, at least in part, where NPR reports international enrollment dropped by nearly a third from 2015 to 2017. The decrease contributed to $30 million in budget cuts made last year.

The University of Akron lost 200 international students, but President Matthew Wilson said, despite the national trend, he’s doubling down on efforts to attract new international students to the campus

Wilson has invested in four global recruiters and opened a new international student center.

“We’re kind of investing in international in a bear market when many universities are scaling back because of the consternation about immigration, the concern that’s there,” he said.

University presidents across the country have pointed to the Trump administration’s immigration policies as a reason for the decline.

Falkenheim said increasing competition from countries like Canada and the U.K., plus the high cost of higher education in the U.S., are also contributing factors.

Ohio enrollment data for 2017 isn’t yet available from the state Department of Higher Education, but graduate international enrollment followed growth trends similar to those tracked by the National Science Foundation through the 2016 school year.

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered. She joined the news team in October of 2012.