College admission officers concerned about decline in international applicants

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Alexia Modzelewska
BYU international student Alexia Modzelewska brings the spirit of the ‘Y’ to Yellowstone National Park. (Alexia Modzelewska)

The number of international students has increased every year for the last 10 years. A record-breaking 1 million international students enrolled in colleges across the U.S. during the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Institute of International Education.

Yet 63 percent of U.S. college admission officers are concerned about a potential decline in international applicants, according to a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey.

Kaplan Test Prep’s Executive Director of Market Research Yariv Alpher said the majority of college admission officers are united in their concern and can use the survey results to further understand the international student experience.

“Understand that this is a shared consciousness among schools,” Alpher said. “We’re seeing 60 percent sharing that concern. It’s a real thing for them, and being cognizant of it is important. Understanding there is a landscape out there where students might feel a great hesitancy about coming to the U.S. for their school is an important thing to know.”

The admissions officers who were concerned about a possible decline said it could contribute to less tuition money, a lack of cross cultural exchange on campuses and barriers to international students’ education.

According to the survey, those who were not concerned about a possible decline believe politics and education are two separate concerns, schools are independent of international students’ tuition money and safety is most important.  

A decline in international applicants nationwide could significantly impact an already small population of international students at BYU. Only 4 percent of BYU’s 33,517 daytime students are international students, according to the university’s self-reported numbers.

BYU international exchange student Franzi Austaeger studies market research at Pforzheim University in Germany. She said many of her friends at home are interested in traveling to or studying abroad in the U.S., yet the current political climate in the U.S. has caused some hesitancy among foreigners.

“Maybe you don’t say, ‘No, I totally don’t want to go (to America)’ because of politics,” Austaeger said. “But you think twice about it, especially because of (attitudes toward) immigration.”  

Some 229 international freshman applicants and 217 international transfer applicants applied to BYU for the Spring and Summer 2017 terms and Fall 2017 semester. A combined total of 202 international applicants were admitted.

Currently, 1,340 international students attend BYU, representing 105 countries. Canada, South Korea and China are the top three nations represented at BYU, aside from the U.S.

University Communications was unable to provide any additional admission information specific to international students aside from figures currently published online.

Even if BYU’s international applicant pool were to shrink, over 50 percent of its students have lived outside the U.S., most likely due to missionary service and travel. While the percentage doesn’t necessarily constitute diversity on campus, there are still opportunities for broader understanding of international culture.

Alpher said college recruiters can use campus community and culture to incentivize students to attend their schools.

“Campuses tend to have a very strong sense of identity and that matters,” Alpher said. “It’s years after you graduate that you still say I’m from that campus or I’m from that school. That sense of belonging is something I think colleges and universities will go back to in telling their story.”

BYU international student Alexia Modzelewska is from Poland. She faced several financial and academic obstacles in applying to BYU — a process that took her nine months to complete. Even though Modzelewska felt she was guided to attend BYU, she said it is difficult to recommend college in the U.S. to other foreigners.

“Considering the current political climate and challenges of getting a work visa in the US, as a European I would not even look into studying in the US unless I was a STEM major,” Modzelewska said. 

But Austaeger and Modzelewska agree their American college experiences have been beneficial to the quality of English they speak a highly sought after skill in the international job market.  

Understanding American geography and networking are also benefits for international students. Modzelewska said students can gain the international experience they need in the U.S. to ultimately return to their home country and initiate change.

“By bringing international students to BYU we strengthen the leadership overseas,” Modzelewska said. “We give them international experience and opportunities to network so they are empowered to go home and make a difference.”

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