MU international enrollment decreases

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COLUMBIA— Enrollment of international students at the University of Missouri has dropped by 35% over the past 5 years. 

In 2015, there were 2,505 international students at MU, but that amount has since declined to about 1,632 today.

The decline is, however, not limited to MU.

“Over the past few years there’s been a rapid decline in international enrollment nationally,” Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said.

“The figures that we’ve seen reports that there are 14% fewer students coming to the U.S. from countries from around the world," she said. "We’re seeing it across the U.S but many of the rural campuses, midwest, the south are reporting greater declines in enrollment among international students.”

The 4-year decline in international students coincides with Donald Trump becoming president. Experts say this is no coincidence. 

Pasquerella said there are several Trump administration policies that have negatively impacted international enrollment. 

 “There are a number of factors,” Pasquerella said. “Certainly, President Trump’s proposed executive orders with respect to banning international students from certain countries created a climate of fear and mistrust and skepticism. And recent events like detaining international students in airports and preventing them from coming in because of visa requirements.”

MU officials said they've seen the direct impact when such policies are rolled out. 

“When we had the Muslim ban that came through, that did certainly concern some of our Muslim students, particularly some of those who were from countries that had been originally listed as no longer being eligible for visas,” Ryan Griffin, the director of the Office of International Admissions at MU, said. He also said visas have been denied for an increasing number of international students.

International undergraduate enrollment had been rising since at least 2010 at MU. The university saw it’s peak in international undergraduate enrollment in 2015.

The group seeing the most dramatic decline is Chinese students, who are also the majority of the MU’s and the US’s international student population. Five years ago, there were 738 Chinese students on MU’s campus. This year there are 323 -- a 56% decrease.

Experts say while foreign students, in general, have seen heightened scrutiny, Chinese students have seen it most.

“There has been encouragement for universities to engage in heightened scrutiny over Chinese scholars to monitor what they’re doing on their computers, what books they’re checking out at the library, what information they’re getting access to,” Pasquerella said.

Experts also suggest that the market for international schooling has gotten competitive over the years with other countries increasing their recruiting efforts.

“The U.S. has been the leader in this marketplace for a long time,” Melanie Gottlieb, the deputy director of American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said. “But other countries are beginning to grow capacity in order to accept more international students."

The fear of gun violence in the US has also played a role in the decrease in international enrollment. 

“My parents, they worry,” Jiarui Han, an international student from China studying at MU, said. “When they see the shooting news on TV they call and they say ‘are you ok?’ and I tell them ‘I’m fine. I’m safe here.’ But they worry.”

Though the conversation around international enrollment focuses on the bigger picture of policies that impact it, some students who do come to study in the US say they’ve personally experienced the changing atmosphere surrounding immigration.

“The biggest change is definitely the politics,” Han said. “I think it does have an impact. It makes me sad when I hear ‘send them back’ and it’s just the feeling of I [don’t] belong here.”

Experts encourage universities to combat the decline by taking a stance against policies that threaten the diversity that international students bring to campus communities.

“When we limit the global perspectives as a result of our policies, practices or social climate, then we undermine the mission of colleges and universities,” Pasquerella said.  

While the politics continue to play out, MU said it’s redirecting its recruitment efforts to other countries like India and Vietnam in order to adapt to the changing market.

This story was done in partnership with The Columbia Missourian. Visit their website for more on this story.

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