CSUN sees slight decrease in international student enrollment

Carol McAllister, international evaluations supervisor at CSUN, has been on a continual, intensive search. She has walked the campuses of Pierce College and Santa Monica Community College, searching and sifting for as many assets as she could find. Several college and university staff members in the United States have taken on a similar search to find these assets: international students, who are of cultural, economic and intellectual value at CSUN and other campuses. McAllister is part of a nine-member committee at CSUN that has formed a program called the International Student Recruitment Program. But at some schools, including CSUN, the number of international students is dropping, either slightly or dramatically. According to Roopa Rawjee, foreign student adviser with Student Development and International Programs at CSUN, in Spring 2003 there was a slight drop in the number of international students attending CSUN. CSUN has been one of very few universities to see only a slight drop in enrollment from international students, due to good recruitment efforts, said McAllister. In Spring 2003, CSUN had 1,297 international students enrolled, compared to about 1,250 in Fall 2004. Other colleges and universities have experienced a “dramatic decline” in enrollment for international students in the Intensive English Program in 2002 and 2003, according to the 2003 Institute of International Exchange’s “open doors” report. There are many reasons for the nationwide decline in enrollment from international students, including financial difficulties and strict national security on students’ visas. Student Exchange and Visa Information System, a program implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, keeps track of international students with visas. McAllister suspects this program is a factor in lowering international student enrollment. Every school has to report information to the Department of Homeland Security on any student in the country with a visa, under jurisdiction of the Patriot Act, McAllister said. A student can only activate one I-20 visa, so if 20 schools accept a student, he or she can only register in one university at a time, McAllister said. Competition from universities in other countries has also contributed to the decline, according to a report by the Chronicle of Higher Education. McAllister said she plans to take her search of recruiting international students to colleges up north soon, but only if there is enough in her department’s budget for her to do so. “I think we’ve been absolutely fortunate in (recruiting),” McAllister said. “But it wasn’t a fluke, believe me. It was a lot of hard effort.” Despite the decline, an increase in enrollment is expected during Spring 2005, due to a good turnout at the spring international student orientation, said John Charles of Student Development and International Programs. The institute’s report recorded 51,179 IEP students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities in 2002, a 34.8 percent decrease from 2001. For the past three successive years, first-time and continuing enrollment for international students was down by 3 percent, according to a University Wire report. At community colleges alone, enrollment went down nationwide by 2.1 percent in 2003, from 98,813 to 96,785 students, according to the Open Doors report. CSUN gets the majority of its international students from community colleges, Charles said. The decline in enrollment subsequently may cause a decline in economic benefits for CSUN. “International students bring in a lot of revenue,” Rawjee said. “Not only to the university, but to the neighborhood by way of business, by way of renting properties here, (and) by way of purchase power. Then, they take this education back into the world wherever they come from. So they take back a little bit of this culture.” International students contributed about $12.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2002-03. Both the school and the students benefit, Rawjee said. In tuition expenses, undergraduate international students in the IEP, who are required to take 24 units per year, must pay $339 per unit, a cost which will rise due to state tuition increases. As a result, international students, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, spend about $6,000 to $8,000 in one year in tuition fees. “After that, (there’s lodging), food, books, health insurance, personal expenses,” Rawjee said. Most of CSUN’s international students, similar to those throughout the rest of the United States, are supported by their families or by personal funds. According to the institute’s report, 65.8 percent of international students were supported financially by their family or by themselves in 2002-03. “Personally, I think the campus needs to work harder on recruiting international students,” McAllister said. “It’s not just (a) monetary gain. We can (also) get a cultural gain.” As an international student, Burcu Aydin, a second-year educational administration graduate student, also brings a lot of money to CSUN, but she doesn’t mind. “The international students have two ways (for admission),” Aydin said. “They’ve got to be smart to come to this country, or they’ve got to have money. Fortunately, I do have both. They say if you don’t have money, don’t come, and I understand that perspective.” She said she is grateful for American teaching. “You’re going to go back to your country and say I got an education in America, and that’s not going to be easy,” Aydin said. Aydin, who is originally from Turkey, said she likes interacting with Americans and other international students because she gains a cultural perspective. “I’m very much assimilated into this culture,” Aydin said. “I always thought Americans were pretty open-minded and educated.” Geert VanLeeuwen, an international student from southern Holland, also said he likes the relationships he has built with Americans. “Europeans sometimes have the strange image of Americans that’s not necessarily true,” VanLeeuwen said. “They have the idea that Americans are a bit arrogant, (and) a bit prude. Here, we are at the university, so there are a lot of educated people (and) it’s different.” Rawjee, who came in as an international student from Bombay, India in 1998, and has been on staff with Student Development and International Programs since 2001, notices all kinds of interaction between American and international students. “The more open-mind(ed) the student (is), the happier their experiences are,” Rawjee said. Rawjee embraced different experiences she had at CSUN, she said. “It’s all about going out and getting a different experience, not my cultural experience that I could have had at home,” she said. “So the fact that you have an open mind helps you. The international students bring a lot of different cultural attitudes and values typical to their own native countries, which are fairly different from the American values. For example, international students are not used to the idea of living away from home as soon as they turn 18.”