Foreign enrollment rates in question

By Shannon Smith

For the first time in decades, foreign applications and foreign enrollment percentages have declined in American graduate schools, including the University of Illinois. These universities are competing with a new world market of higher education, facing a struggle to maintain strong numbers of international students.

According to the University student enrollment reports, there are more than 4,750 foreign students at the Urbana-Champaign campus. A report put out by the Institute of International Education (IIE) states that the University ranks sixth in international student enrollment in the United States.

Richard Wheeler, dean of the University’s graduate college, said that while the University is watching the decline closely, there is no need for serious alarm.

“Foreign enrollment is down about 3.5 percent for graduate students nationwide,” Wheeler said. “However, if you look at a 10-year span, it’s up about 13.5 percent.”

Wheeler said although there was a decline in enrollment and applications, there was not a crossover in the quality of applications needed to fill the University’s classes.

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    A number of recent editorials on the IIE Web site stated that results from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including delays in obtaining student visas, have contributed to the decline.

    Atman Shuh freshman in engineering and an international student from Bombay, India, said while he did not experience difficulties in getting his visa processed, he knows people who did.

    “I have a lot of friends who were asked a number of questions while trying to obtain their visas,” Shuh said. “They had to show documentation, like exactly how they were going to fund their education.”

    But these delays are only part of the reason for the diluted enrollment numbers.

    Stanley Henderson, University associate provost in enrollment management, said other countries are

    beginning to put a stronger emphasis on their higher education systems.

    “There has been increasing competition from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom,” Henderson said. “The students don’t have to go through all the

    procedures that they have to go through with (the Department of) Homeland Security in the U.S.”

    Wheeler said there has been an intense effort within these countries to grow and expand their doctoral andgraduate programs.

    “It’s a high governmental priority with the European Union,” Wheeler said. “They’re competing hard for our students.”

    Even the home countries of many of these international students are beginning to transform their own programs.

    “In some countries, such as China, the governments are building their own programs, actively working to keep their students at home,”

    Henderson said. “As the reputations at those schools improve, more students will be willing to stay.”

    Wheeler said while this new decline is no reason for alarm, it is cause for alertness.

    “The University is trying to make our admissions application as user-friendly as possible,” Wheeler said. “And we have been racking our brains for particular ways to recruit.”

    Wheeler said the University has often relied on word of mouth to advertise their notable programs.

    Shuh said he feels that this technique works very well with students in India. Shuh said he heard good reviews from friends, family and even respected elders.

    “Initially, when I was in 11th grade, I went to one of my teachers in India,” Shuh said. “She acted as a guide and advised me to valued universities, such as Michigan, Georgia Tech and the U of I.”

    Shuh said he is very pleased with his education at the University thus far and believes that as long as the programs remain successful, international students will continue to come.

    Henderson said the University will continue to monitor the decline because international students are

    important assets the the University does not want to lose.

    “We value what the international students bring to the University in terms of diversity,” Henderson said.