WMU News

International enrollment continues post-9.11 decline

Nov. 19, 2003

KALAMAZOO--International student enrollment has dipped nearly 10 percent at Western Michigan University, despite 110 countries being represented on campus, shattering the previous high of 103 countries represented in 2001.

The University's fall 2003 enrollment tallies are being reported in conjunction with this year's national celebration of International Education Week, which began Monday, Nov. 17.

Dr. Howard J. Dooley, executive director of international affairs in WMU's Office of International Affairs, says 1,721 international students are enrolled in degree programs this semester, down 186 students or 9.75 percent compared to the 1,907 students enrolled last fall.

The University's international enrollment peaked at 2,002 students in fall 2001, just before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Since then, enrollment has declined by 281 students or 14 percent.

"WMU's international student enrollment is beginning to show the effects of the increased security measures implemented in the aftermath of 9-11," Dooley explains. "Except for European Union countries and Japan, it's now much more difficult and time-consuming for anyone to come to the United States as a student, business person or tourist."

National statistics for the current semester will not be available for another year. However, a nationwide census released Nov. 3 found that international student enrollment for fall 2002 was down at many U.S. schools. The report, "Open Doors 2003," is a comprehensive review of international educational exchanges published annually by the Institute of International Education with support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The IIE counted a record 586,323 foreigners studying in America last fall, but total enrollment rose less than 1 percent--the smallest increase since the 1995-96 academic year. WMU ranked 36th in international enrollment among the public institutions in the United States listed in the Carnegie Foundation's highest classification category for colleges and universities: "doctoral/
research universities-extensive."

To get a snapshot of what's happening on college campuses this fall, the IIE conducted an online survey in October that drew responses from international education professionals at more than 270 institutions. The poll found that America's new security measures, tight economies in many countries and increased competition from schools outside of the United States are dampening international enrollment again this year.

Forty-six percent of survey respondents reported a decline in total international student enrollment compared to fall 2002 while 54 percent reported either an increase or no change. According to the IIE, these figures reinforce "the view that there is an uneven impact that is being felt strongly by some campuses and some fields and more modestly or not at all by others."

At WMU, greater difficulty in obtaining U.S. visas is the main reason international student numbers are down, says Jolene Jackson, director of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services. Jackson adds that one of the biggest obstacles is SEVIS, a federally mandated Internet-based tracking system that went into effect January 2003 and through which schools must regularly report information about their foreign students, professors and researchers.

"The SEVIS system has made it tougher for students to enter the United States and has slowed down the process of issuing the formal paperwork that these students are required to complete before they apply to schools for visas," she says. "Obtaining a U.S. visa today requires being interviewed and passing security checks in the student's country as well as the United States, and can take four to six months for citizens of some countries.

"Meanwhile," Jackson says, "we're competing with institutions around the world for the same students. But other nations, especially Australia and the United Kingdom, are offering much easier visa processing."

Of those international students who enrolled at WMU this fall, the largest contingent--608--hails from India. The other top 10 countries of origin are: Malaysia, 176; Pakistan, 93; Japan, 92; China, 62; Canada, 56; Kenya, 47; Taiwan, 41; South Korea, 36; and Thailand, 31.

Noticeably absent on this year's list is Hong Kong, which was in fifth place last year. Dooley says enrollment dropped from 96 to 12 students this year because the last participants in WMU's twinning program with Hong Kong Baptist University graduated.

Enrollment from the United Kingdom also showed a significant decline, due to graduation of about two-thirds of the British Airways pilots studying at WMU, and from Malaysia, due to lengthy new visa procedures for Malaysians and an Australian branch campus opening at Sunway College, where WMU debuted its twinning programs in 1987.

Twinning allows international students to take the first half of their undergraduate or graduate coursework in their home countries, where they enroll in courses that are clones of WMU's courses. The students complete the final half of their studies at WMU or another U.S. institution.

WMU's Office of International Affairs pioneered twinning programs in Asia and is in the process of launching a new twinning effort in Hong Kong. The office also is beginning to take the innovative educational concept to Africa, Europe and Latin America.

"Our rising stature abroad and at home and our record of successful twinning programs at foreign institutions have been crucial to diversifying WMU's sources of international enrollments," Dooley says, adding that twinning has been a bright spot for the University overall and will continue to be in the future.

International enrollment statistics

Total international students, 2,111: enrolled in degree programs, 1,721 from 110 countries; studying at the Career English Language Center for International Students, 45; interns on campus for optional practical training, 345.

Total international community, 2,249 people from 111 countries: students plus 138 dependents.

Primary source continent: Asia, 73 percent or 1,255 students.

Primary source region: South Asia, 42.5 percent or 733 students (India, 608; Pakistan, 93; Bangladesh, 13; Nepal, 12; Sri Lanka, 7).

Other source regions: sub-Saharan African, 7.6 percent or 132 students; Europe, 6.7 percent or 116 students; Middle East and North Africa, 5.2 percent or 90 students; Latin America, 3.8 percent or 67 students.

Biggest enrollment increase: Africa, up 34 percent from 98 to 132; led by 21 new students from Kenya, up 80 percent to 47.

Major enrollment decreases: Asia, down 17.7 percent from 1,526 to 1,255; Europe, down 22 percent from 149 to 116; Middle East and North Africa, down 21.7 percent from 115 to 90.

Fourth straight year largest contingent hails from India: 35 percent.

Second straight year men outnumber women: 68-32 percent.

Second straight year graduate students outnumber undergraduates: 57-43 percent.

Fourth straight year enrolled students come from at least 100 countries.

Most popular subjects: engineering, 700+ students; business administration, 400+ students.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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