The University of California (UC) saw a one-percent drop, which equates to a shortfall of about 353 applicants, in international freshman undergraduate applications for the November 2016 application cycle. This is the first decline in international applications seen by the UC in over a decade after applications were rising at a rate of 21 percent every year.
The San Francisco Chronicle, who originally broke the story, attributed the shortfall in applications to the election of Donald J. Trump in the November 2016 elections, noting applications for UC schools closed in November, the same month as the presidential election.
To understand this phenomenon and to see if this rate is in fact because of Trump, the Highlander sat down with Kelechi Kalu, the vice provost of international affairs and professor of political science at UC Riverside.
Kalu began by stating that several international students at UC are from Asia as well as some from the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia. Kalu then explained how various sociopolitical changes in these countries are keeping students in their respective countries. Despite being limited to several other countries, immigration and consular officials, even those of countries not identified in the travel ban, might interpret it to be an attempt at limiting immigration.
Kalu cited China to explain the large number of Chinese students in the country. In 1984, the communist party opened up the Chinese economy, introducing market principles. He explained the importance of an educated populace to drive economic development, which is why so many Chinese enrolled in U.S. and European institutions. Chinese students currently comprise 55.5 percent of UCR’s international student population.
He went on to say that “at some point, the domestic market in the case of China has become strong; the universities have become … highly competitive global centers of knowledge.” Kalu said that, along with emerging development in these countries, Trump’s freeze on visas for citizens of several nations has only accelerated students rethinking studying in the United States. Kalu speculated that there was a large spike in Chinese students turning toward places like Australia for education.
When asked if the UC should be alarmed by the decrease, Kalu said that if there is a rapid decrease in international students, the concern will be two-fold; a dearth of skills brought here by international students and a fall in revenue for the university. Kalu explained that, “If you look at graduate student classes, most of them are foreign students … with deep knowledge and commitment to the research process. So if the number begins to decline rapidly, then the question becomes ‘how do we fill the gap?’”
Kalu then described the massive amount of revenue international students bring to universities in order to fill the void of divestment by federal and state governments since the 1980s. “A typical student pays $20,000 a year,” stated Kalu, “compare that to 49-or-so thousand an international student pays. That money they pay is what helps to offset what revenue the university is not able to raise to provide the same level of education.”
Kalu said he was “not too worried yet” since the bans have been stalled but, nonetheless, consuls are slowing visa application processes.
When asked whether this decrease could be because of tuition, Kalu explained that international students have always paid more than their domestic counterparts and, therefore, does not think it is because of tuition. Kalu then described the fees colleges charge international students, using his time at Ohio State University as an example. “In addition to the regular tuition normally raised, we also imposed what people call a surcharge, an additional $1,000,” stated Kalu, furthering that this charge was instituted to cover “enhanced services” for international students.
Kalu said that it is not an issue of money, but the quality of education the UC provides and that is why international students will continue to arrive. The only issue, according to Kalu, with higher international student tuition is a lack of income diversity among international students, limiting those from Africa and South Asia.
When asked whether students provide a sort of diplomacy between the U.S. and their home countries, Kalu said, “When a foreign student has been welcomed in a community, and American students are welcomed in foreign communities, there is no better diplomatic exercise than that.” He then cited President of China Xi Jinping who studied abroad in Iowa and still keeps in touch with his host family. Kalu suggested this type of experience helps to build relationships between governments.
When asked if he would apply now as a prospective international student, Kalu, who is originally from Nigeria, responded that it was the traditional liberal arts approach to learning that brought him to the U.S. He elaborated by saying that this requires a student, regardless of major, “to really come to appreciate how meaningful life is.” He said that this type of education system provides different perspectives to “fully know yourself and know how you fit into this world. It is no longer big because you know how you fit into it. That’s what brought me here.”