My Linkluster post last week to Matt Yglesias’s comments seemed to get the most attention. So I’ve been doing some more thinking on it. I also read an article that he linked to:

According to the Institute of International Education and U.S. Dept. of State, there now there were around 720,000 international students at U.S. colleges in the 2011 academic year. They estimate that these students contribute $21 billion to the economy through tuition and spending. I don’t know where they get their estimate, but this is around $30,000 per student and that sounds like a sensible enough number for a back-of-the-envelope estimate.

So how many international students could we handle? There are currently around 21 million college students in the U.S., with around 18 million in undergrad and 3 million in graduate. If we increased the number of international students by 5 million then around 1-in-5 college students would be international. Is this unthinkably high? Well it’s still below the ratio at the colleges in this country with the most international student enrollment. At the New School, for example, about 1-in-4 students is international. Given that Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and MIT have 10% or more international students, it doesn’t appear that a high ratio holds a university back academically.

Ozimek addresses my primary concern, which is that increasing the number of foreign students would have the end result of crowding out American students. Not crowding out American students from college generally, but rather shuffling them off directional schools due to enrollment caps and the like.

There is no reason that there would have to be enrollment caps, of course. And Ozimek could just as easily reply that if there were, then that wouldn’t actually be his plan in action and so perhaps I shouldn’t criticize the plan on that basis.

I do harbor the fear, though, because enrollment caps do exist. They exist in universities that could expand if they were so inclined. They exist precisely to tighten entrance requirements and propel schools up the USNWR list and others.

My alma mater, Southern Tech, is one such school. Sotech is not exactly in the upper echelon of universities, but presently rejects over a third of its applicants and that number is climbing. Purposefully so. The problem that Sotech faces is that when it admits more students, it gets hit twice by the various rankings. First, because it’s admission profile is lower than it otherwise would be. Second, because some higher percentage of students will fail out.

The main reason that the university doesn’t limit expansion more is… money. Recruiting more international students could be a nice way around this.

There is the argument that if students are failing out then perhaps it is best not to admit them in the first place. This is often used as a knock against for-profit schools. The students are failing and therefore it’s an indication that they are being taken advantage of. Is Sotech doing the same? Maybe. On the other hand, both for-profits and Sotech are arguably doing a disservice to those who would graduate by keeping those who wouldn’t out. (Beyond which, it’s often external circumstances rather than academic profile that makes students hit graduation benchmarks).

On the other side of things, if there is so much money to be made here, why aren’t more schools already doing it? The US apparently doesn’t limit the number of student visas it gives out (this suggests we don’t). Why are schools and states leaving this money on the table?

I particularly think of some of the schools in lower population states. The University of Wyoming and the University of North Dakota – to name two – aggressively recruit out-of-state students because without them, their schools would look like the University of South Dakota (half the size of the other two).

It’s also the case that some of these states could use people. There’d be no way to necessarily hold on to them after graduation, but there is at least some degree of inertia involved. You go somewhere and you leave if you’re uncomfortable but stay if you are and if you don’t go there to begin with it would never occur to you that you would be comfortable staying. That sort of thing.

I might expect one of them to be fear of becoming an “Asian school” (not that all International students would be coming from Asia, but a significant number would).

I am also reminded on this piece about former Boston University president John Silber. Silber sought to limit enrollment to the University of Texas (where he was a high-ranking dean) because he feared what would be lost along the way towards a mega-university. It should come as no surprise that I am glad he lost that particular battle, but it would help explain why at least the more prestigious large schools might be antsy.

None of this would explain why schools like DeVry wouldn’t do it. I mean, every student is another ounce of profit for them, isn’t it? I doubt they’re worried much about student composition.

I assume that there is something holding this back. I just can’t figure out what. Despite my above-mentioned concerns, I see significant room for opportunity here. Not just as a money-making venture, but as general policy as well. If handled right. I’m not sure how much confidence I have of that.

Category: School

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7 Responses to Enrollment Internationale

  1. Fnord says:

    Is there international demand for vastly increased access to American schools? No doubt there is at places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and MIT. But at mid-to-low tier public schools, much less the for-profits like DeVry?

  2. trumwill says:

    It’s a good question, Fnord. Schools like DeVry maybe not except that it’s a ticket into the United States. I’d think that would count for something. Florida Gulf Coast University also might also not be a destination school, though most schools have some good program or another and – depending on where we’re talking about – “educated in the United States” may have some appeal regardless of institution.

  3. David Alexander says:

    I suspect that the real problem is that while high end schools in the United States are globally known, it’s less enticing for lower level foreign students to go to directional state colleges or no name private schools at full cost when they can attend university in their home countries for free or near free. In other words, would you leave a directional college to go to a directional college in Canada or Australia and pay full costs of doing so?

  4. David Alexander says:

    And I’ll note that the students who can’t get into universities in their home countries tend to be too poor to come to the states and pay full price.

  5. trumwill says:

    In other words, would you leave a directional college to go to a directional college in Canada or Australia and pay full costs of doing so?

    No, but I might if I was in Thailand and anxious to get out.

  6. David Alexander says:

    No, but I might if I was in Thailand and anxious to get out.

    Yes, but if you’re in Thailand and desperate to leave, can you really afford to pay the non-resident price at your local directional college or community college? With the exception of the upper class in a country like that, most simply aren’t able to do so. Now, unless these schools are willing to offer scholarships or their home countries are willing to subsidize more of their students, you’re just not going to see legions of foreign students coming to second and third tier American colleges.

  7. trumwill says:

    I should have specified that I meant “anxious to leave and get to a particular country.” I don’t know how robust the options are for the wealthy in Thailand for getting into the US. I’ve gotten the impression that it’s still not easy. Middle Tennessee State University providing a clear path strikes me as something that would be taken advantage of, even if it’s not the University of Tennessee.

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