International student enrollment continues decline

By Nicole Parent l Herald Contributor

The number of international students enrolled at RWU dropped by approximately 18% over the last year, according to data obtained from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

That’s a significantly larger decline from what’s happening nationally, according to a new report from the Institute of International Education (IIE).

About 80 students from 43 countries are enrolled here at the university for the 2019-2020 academic year, down from 98 students the previous year. During the 2017-2018 academic year, there was 122 international students, representing a 34% drop over the last two years.

According to IIE’s report released in November, international student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities only dropped by 1.6%. IIE is a New York City based nonprofit that creates programs of study and training for international students.

The university considers international students to be “any student who has a permanent address outside of the U.S., despite their citizenship status,” said Amy Tiberio, vice president of enrollment management and marketing,

However, the university also considers students who have dual citizenship but grew up completely outside of the U.S. to be international students.

“Their needs for transition and orientation are likely virtually the same as any other international student with alien citizenship status,” Tiberio said.

Tiberio said the decline in international student enrollment began in 2013 but increased sharply in recent years as a result of developments in Saudi Arabia.

“[Enrollment] changed significantly in 2016 when the Saudi Arabian government severely cut back on their scholarship program that funded U.S. education for Saudi nationals,” Tiberio said.

The Saudi Arabian students who took advantage of this scholarship to attend RWU had accounted for the largest percentage of international student enrollment.

Tiberio said the university has been trying to recover from the decline by expanding its international student outreach and making the application process more accessible to potential students. However, she said recent trends in U.S. policy have made this task more difficult. Stricter immigration and visa policies and changes in U.S. relations with other countries have all challenged recruitment efforts.

“International perception of the U.S. in the nationalist Trump administration have impacted international student applications and enrollments in the U.S.,” Tiberio said.

Economic downturns in other countries, such as Turkey, also impact the ability of international students to pursue educational opportunities in the U.S. Others are increasingly choosing to study in their own country or study abroad in another country, where the colleges have become more competitive and the cost of education is lower.

Coordinator of International Admission Bill Abbate had previously reached out to many of the current first-year international students, according to Director of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Zoila Quezada.

“[Abbate’s] making a lot of personal connections with a lot of schools in different countries,” Quezada said. “I think that’s a major thing too, meeting and making connections.”

Senior Miranda Rojas, who is from Costa Rica, has studied at RWU since her freshman year. She shared her thoughts on the enrollment decline.

“There’s not a ELS program anymore. I think that’s the main reason why there’s a decline,” Rojas said. “I think they can provide more resources for international students.”

“A lot of professors don’t know, they assume we’re American. At times we don’t feel comfortable because we don’t think there is an international community.”

Rojas said one feature that helps international students here is the Global Scholars program, a class for international students that helps them adjust to RWU.

“I think that helps a lot with building this community,” Rojas said.