Diversity Aside, International Students Bring a Financial Incentive

As college campuses face financial uncertainty and tough enrollment seasons, it’s no secret that attracting more international students can yield benefits beyond the intangibles, like a more diverse student body.

A recent Chronicle survey of 436 small private institutions and state universities shows that colleges that enrolled more international students also were more likely to meet enrollment and net-tuition-revenue goals.

For example, among the private institutions in the survey that met or exceeded their revenue goals for the 2013-14 entering class, 35 percent saw more than a 5-percent increase in the number of international students enrolled in the previous year. Among those that met neither revenue nor enrollment targets, only 27 percent saw a similar increase.

In recent years both public and private institutions have recruited more international students as a way of bringing in more revenue, said Rahul Choudaha, director of research and strategic development at World Education Services, a nonprofit organization that specializes in international education. That trend has coincided with an increase in the number of students abroad, particularly in China, with the ability to pay tuition at an American university, Mr. Choudaha said.

Most international students at the University of Washington’s Bothell campus are Chinese, and all pay full out-of-state tuition and fees: $31,488. But the university doesn’t make any effort to recruit from overseas, said Susan E. Jeffords, the university’s vice chancellor for academic affairs. Instead, most of the college’s international students transfer from the state’s community-college system, and the rest come through word of mouth, Ms. Jeffords said. “We’re not targeting international students because of that tuition rate,” she added.

And not all international students translate into full-pay admits, said Brian J. Bruess, vice president for enrollment at St. Catherine University, a private institution in Minnesota. The university enrolled 19 international students in this year’s freshman class, some coming from war-torn areas and needing substantial financial aid. That enrollment, Mr. Bruess said, comes from the university’s longstanding commitment to an international and diverse environment, rather than a focus on the bottom line.

But once institutions start enrolling international students—regardless of their initial motivations—they come to depend on those foreign students as a revenue stream. Gannon University, a private institution in Pennsylvania where international students make up roughly 10 percent of the student population, enrolled 213 international students, up from 140 last year. “Had we not had international enrollments,” said William R. Edmondson, vice president for enrollment at the university, “we would not be in the financial position that we are in now.”

The Chronicle surveyed 144 members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and 292 members of the Council of Independent Colleges regarding their enrollment strategies for 2013-14, including data about international students.

Return to Top