'Unusual' 6 percent drop in international undergraduate applications at the U of M

International student applications have fallen at 40 percent of U.S. colleges, with some suggesting the government's harsher immigration stance could be behind it.
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The University of Minnesota is among the U.S. colleges that have seen a drop in the number of applications from international students for the upcoming school year.

The New York Times reported last month 40 percent of U.S. colleges have seen a fall in international applications, in an apparent response to the stricter immigration policies trying to be implemented by the Trump administration.

The U of M told GoMN it has received 375 fewer international undergraduate applications as of late March compared to the same time in 2016 – a drop of 6 percent.

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert McMaster says this is the largest drop the university has seen in the last decade, and he described it as "a bit unusual."

A possible reason for it could be its rising non-resident tuition rates, the U says, adding it's too early to tell whether the recent change in government and its subsequent plans to step up the vetting of people coming to the U.S. is affecting application numbers.

But Lee Fertig, a University of Minnesota alum who is now the director of the International School of Brussels in Belgium, told GoMN he gets the feeling from foreign students that the abrupt change in U.S. government attitudes towards immigration is making prospective applicants think twice.

"There seems to be increasing concern about visa issues, ease of travel in and out of the country, as well as just overall mindset of how the population in the U.S. approaches issues of diversity these days," he said.

"Those coming from the outside, including students who may never have lived in the States for a long period of time, are prone to view the whole country as one unified entity that has lost its enthusiastic embrace for the power of diverse perspectives.

"The fact that the media is also showcasing specific cases of high-level, professional American citizens – business owners, professors, artists, scientists – who continue to be harassed at airports and denied re-entry into the USA (as Americans!) is not very comforting to young people who are considering studying at institutions in the States," Fertig said.

How about other MN colleges?

The New York Times got its figures from a study by higher education group AACRAO, and it's worth noting that while around 40 percent of colleges saw a drop in applications – particularly from Middle Eastern students – 35 percent of colleges reported an increase.

While undergraduate applications have fallen at the U of M, international applications for graduate programs have risen 1 percent this year compared to last, the university told GoMN.

And the fall in undergraduate applications isn't necessarily being replicated at other colleges.

Carleton College in Northfield said its application numbers remain steady, within 1 percent of last year's numbers. However it enrolls a much smaller number of international students than the U of M – around 50 a year.

At Macalester College in St. Paul, application numbers have risen to 1,354 for the 2017 academic year, up from 1,333 in 2016 and 1,095 in 2015.

North Dakota State University has seen a 25 percent drop in international applications, but it says this can be explained by ending some of its programs that included international students – and noted it's still accepting applications.

This past year saw a record number of international students studying at U.S. colleges, with the Wall Street Journal reporting it surpassed 1 million for the first time.

Financial implications?

A fall in international applications could have a bearing on a university's financial performance, as international students in most colleges pay higher tuition fees that help keep fees lower for local students.

And the New York Times notes it could have a wider financial bearing on the U.S., noting international students bring $32 billion a year to the U.S. economy every year.

At the University of Minnesota, international student fees for the 2017-18 academic year are $25,727. It's around $10,000 less for residents of Minnesota, the Dakotas, Manitoba and Wisconsin.

Even so, 5,500 undergraduate applications means the university should be able to fill out its international student numbers this coming year as there are still more applicants than places available.

According to its enrollment statistics for Spring 2017, the U of M currently has 3,142 international undergraduate students.

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