Supporting International Students


Carlos Manuel Haro, Ph.D
Assistant Dean, International Studies and Overseas Programs
University of California, Los Angeles
Executive Officer, SOCCIS

Michael D. Fels, Ph.D.
Director, International Programs and Services
California State University, Los Angeles

This report is about international (foreign) students who study in the United States, particularly in Southern California and specifically at five institutions in the Los Angeles Area-the University of Southern California, California State University Long Beach, Santa Monica College, California State University Los Angeles, and the University of California, Los Angeles. These include institutions representing each level of the California State public postsecondary education system and a private institution.

The report is organized into case studies that give the reader an insider's view of how these very different institutions go about the business of providing services to their students. The author of each case study has tried to give insight first into how services are provided and then into the rationale underlying these services. The five institutions serve a total of approximately 10,500 non-immigrant foreign students.

An important reference to find facts and figures about foreign students is in the Institute of International Education's annual Report on International Educational Exchange, known as Open Doors . For example, Open Doors cites the percentage of male foreign students in the USA as having dropped from 69.2% in 1976-77 to 58.1% in 1997-98; there were 203,068 foreign students 1976-77 and there are over 481,280 today; in 1959-60, there were 6,457 undergraduate foreign students in California whereas there are 65,292 today; Japan, with 47,073 students, sends the most students to the United States, and, after Japan, are China, Korea, India, and Taiwan in rank order. Open Doors is an indispensable almanac and is available on most campuses or directly from the IIE.

However, the case studies included in this report are less about numbers and more about what happens when these thousands of students actually appear on our doorsteps. What services are provided? What challenges are faced? How, if at all, do students with visas differ from those without? To what extent does/should the University attempt to integrate foreign students into its normal pallet of programs and services? What assumptions drive programs? What issues underlie the enrollment of large numbers of international students? Is "it" really about more than enhanced revenues or keeping faculty employed? If not, is that OK? As you read these papers, we hope that you will keep some of these questions in mind.

Although most of us in the field of international education exchange assume that there is an implicit academic value for domestic students to be found in the presence of large numbers of foreign students, the case is largely built on anecdote and intuition. "It's good because we do it" isn't sufficient justification to formulate policy or to develop priorities. If we believe there is a positive impact on the educational experiences of domestic students because of the presence of international students, we need to get beyond platitudes and do the research necessary to prove it. On the other hand, if the presence of large numbers of foreign students are primarily a boon to a university's fiscal standing rather than to its educational status, then we need to be clear about that and do what it takes to build large, well financed programs that support the strategic needs of our institutions. In the best of worlds, we should be able to make clear, well-documented cases that rest on both of these propositions. But, if we fail to do either the research or the math, we are being less than candid at best and we risk being unable to successfully counter new and potent challenges in the worst case.

Some of these challenges are as follows:
· the cluster of new instructional technologies, such as web-based instruction, that make it unnecessary for students physically to come to the campus;
· the development of student mobility schemes in Europe and other places that have not been matched by similar efforts in the Americas;
· the growing reality that English is the world academic and commercial language;
· the development of national policies in countries such as Australia that have led to student visas becoming easier to obtain;
· the development of large, new kinds of for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix and small start-up institutions that attract students from one particular country such as Ivy University with its Chinese students;
· finally, as Chancellor Young of UCLA pointed out in 1992 , though the U.S. is among the least traveled and most culturally unaware of the industrialized countries of the world, we receive almost six times as many students as we send to other countries.

As you read through the institutional "snap shots" that follow this introduction, you might want to reflect on some of the following assumptions that we found built into these "snap shots." These assumptions, if put into researchable form, could be validated through scholarly investigation:

· The presence of foreign students at US institutions of higher education is positive for domestic students.
· It is desirable to integrate foreign students with domestic students.
· Foreign students have difficulty forming friendships with US students.
· Domestic students in public institutions are often from lower socio-economic levels and are less well prepared academically then their foreign-student counterparts.
· Foreign students need special help if they are going to survive at US institution of higher education.
· U.S. institutions must assume some programmatic responsibility to help foreign students reach their academic goals.
· Foreign students benefit from being connected with community groups and local families.
· Traditional international banquets and international fairs are positive components of foreign student campus life.
· The traditional campus "international day" is anathema to modern foreign students.
· The understandings that occur from interactions between foreign and domestic students equip students for responsible citizenship in the U.S. and globally in the 21st century.
· Foreign students who return to their home countries will develop economic policies and practices favorable to the US.
· The funds students spend at the University and the surrounding communities are significant.
· The larger the number of foreign students on a campus, the smaller the likelihood they will make close friends with domestic students.
· Foreign students who are transfers are more likely to be drawn to immigrant communities and less likely to participate in traditional campus life.
· Faculty can assist the development of cross-cultural understanding and friendships through assigning team-focused project assignments.
· The families of many foreign students expect them to stay in the U.S. and become permanent residents.
· Foreign students frequently import racist, sexist, or classist attitudes to the host campus.
· Transfer foreign students do not need special, programmatic assistance (other than with USINS issues).

That's quite a list and put in proper form, could become a research agenda for those prepared and willing to take it on.

"What's the problem?" you ask. "We've got more international students than ever bringing more money than ever into our colleges and universities. That's got to be good."

In fact, it might be. But without a well-grounded understanding of the actual consequences of our institutional behavior, including an analysis of the secondary effects that constitute an important if overlooked component of a traditional cost/benefit analysis, we should not be sanguine about our actions. Secondary effects are often difficult to identify and measure, but if they can be identified, they should be calculated into the overall cost/benefit of having foreign students on campus. For example, does a secondary effect accrue to China when many of the students it sends to the U.S. stay on and become expatriates? Does a secondary effect accrue to U.S. students who can't compete in math and science with better-prepared foreigners? Does a secondary effect accrue to California when prestigious public institutions cannot admit all qualified domestic students who apply yet still admit foreign students? Does a secondary effect accrue to domestic students when landlords learn they can charge foreign students higher rents than local students and drive up the cost of housing? Finally, as Chancellor Young of UCLA asked, are we undermining our own country's economic competitiveness by offering educational opportunities to so many foreign students and will education costs increase for domestic students because of the trend of charging foreign students the full cost of education? The questions go on and on.

Some other developments in the wake of September 11th also deserve in-depth consideration as they are closely related to the topics addressed in these five case studies. The issue of visas for foreign students has become a subject of national importance in the U.S. In early April, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) decided to limit the length of time visitors (including foreign students) stay in the U.S. from six months to thirty days. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) has a proposal before Congress that calls for a six-month moratorium on all visas for new foreign students coming to the U.S. The U.S. Department of State recently amended its "automatic revalidation of visa" provision to exclude "aliens who apply for new visas during [short visits to other North American countries] and aliens who are nationals of countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism." There are also several proposals being floated in Washington D.C. to either overhaul or break up the INS to deal more effectively with enforcement and immigration services. Such trends' potential to impact international student exchange negatively is of vital concern to American colleges and universities, but not the only developments these schools take into account.

The most recent Open Doors survey illustrates that there are many more positive trends than negative ones in relation to international student exchange following September 11th. According to the survey, the academic year 2000-2001 saw a 6.4% rise in the numbers of international students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education. This increase is the largest since 1980. Application rates for foreign students at many American universities were up between 16 and 24 percent in the 2000-2001 academic year. Long-term goals such as the strengthening of "cooperative efforts to address global problems that could one day pose as great a threat as terrorism" could be achieved by making sure this recent increase in the numbers of international students in the U.S. is not rapidly reversed.

A letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell to Dr. Myles Brand the President of Indiana University reinforces this point about the future benefits that can accrue to the U.S. from today's international students. As the Secretary of State notes, "students and scholars from other countries gain from our society and academic institutions, they also serve as resources for our campuses and communities, helping our citizens to develop the international understanding needed to strengthen our long-term national security." In terms utilized by the Open Door survey, higher education is the U.S.' fifth largest export, bringing more than $11 billion to the domestic economy. Patricia S. Harrison, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, discussed the results of the Open Door2000-2001 survey by remarking that "exchange programs…help build stronger relationships between countries, governments and peoples." Economic benefits, diplomatic linkages, and as yet intangible advantages that international student exchange brings the U.S. all factor into our considerations as we evaluate the rationale for foreign student programs at American colleges and universities.

Anecdotal information collected by the Institute for International Education in association with its Open Door survey shows that most programs related to international students and area studies continue despite the cancellation of a small number of programs in the wake of September 11th. Very few foreign students in the U.S. have returned abruptly to their home countries, enrollment numbers for international students remain strong, and "a noticeable new interest in international issues in general and Islam and its teachings in particular" has emerged. This renewed interest in regions of Asia was also evident at an Open Doors Press Conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on November 13, 2001.

Both the November 13, 2001 Open Doors Press Conference and the Open Doors survey provide support for the immense role Asia has come to play in international educational exchange with the U.S. Students from Asia make up over 51% of all international enrollments in the U.S. The academic year 2000-2001 saw an 8% increase in students from this region, thereby bringing the total number of students from Asia to 302,058. The state of California hosts the most international students in the nation and experienced a more than 12% increase in international student enrollment for the 2000-2001 academic year. This increase was the strongest among all the states in the U.S.

Economically, these increases in enrollment numbers for international students from Asia also translate into dollars. International students provide $11 billion or more to the U.S. economy through the money they spend on tuition, fees, related costs, and living expenses. 67% of these international students receive most of their funds from family and personal sources rather than U.S. grants. Because 75% of all international students receive their funding from sources outside the U.S., the Department of Commerce "considers educational services to be one of the country's largest service sector exports."

Shifts in enrollment numbers of international students from particular Asian countries also reflect the growing importance of this geographic region to both world politics and international educational exchange. China and India topped the list for numbers of international students in the U.S. in the academic year 2000-2001. China was the leader of sending countries for the third year in a row. The number of students it sent to the U.S. increased by 10% while the number of students from India increased by more than 29%. For the first time, India surpassed Japan in the number of students sent to the U.S., but this is understandable in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis and economic downturn.

A final remark from the November 13, 2001 Open Doors Press Conference sums up a point whose importance cannot be stressed sufficiently-it is the long-term and not the short-term perspective that ought to prevail on debates over international educational exchange during troubled times. Todd Davis, the representative at the press conference, concluded his speech by saying, "We have seen enrollments grow during other troubled passages in our National History…During the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War…the Cold War…the Oil Crisis of the 70s…and the Persian Gulf War. In each of these cases enrollment flows may have shifted between particular places but through all they have grown…At this juncture we need to remind ourselves of our enduring strengths [one of which is our higher education system]." In effect, as the Open Doors Press Conference and the other documents utilized for this introduction emphasize, continued efforts to strengthen international educational exchange is in America's long-term strategic and economic interests. What remains is to weigh the probable gains against potential risks and render solutions that benefit the interests of U.S. higher education while keeping the nation safe.

In light of these developments that deserve further consideration, we found these five case studies interesting and, in their own way, provocative. It is hoped that reading them will stimulate your interest to think further about this special niche in higher education and the role it will play in America's future as a nation.