By Harald Reynolds and Ryan Ramos
In what is being called a ‘Trump effect,’ applications of international students at UW-Milwaukee for Fall 2017 compared to Fall 2016.
According to an enrollment update from Provost Johannes Britz on March 30, undergraduate applications decreased by 20.2 percent and graduate applications decreased by 5.7 percent that accumulated to -9.5 percent. Undergraduate admissions fell by 10.9 percent while graduate admissions rose up by 8.4 percent which increased overall admissions by 2 percent.
Trump’s order is in a constant cycle of being revised and halted by Supreme Court judges. While Syria and Iran are the countries most affected by this ban, many international students remain in limbo as the implications of our current political climate weigh heavily on their ability to live and work in the United States.
Salome Nugun, a nursing major at UW-Milwaukee who is originally from Kenya, notes the effect that the travel ban had on international student enrollment. She believes it had a great negative impact, and that it made students afraid to come to schools in the United States.
“The deportation rules keep us fearful,” she said. “I think it’s hostile towards international students.”
In accordance to a nationwide trend, international student enrollment at the country’s institutes of higher education is declining. The current administration’s stance on immigration carries a stigma of fear for international students in the U.S.
According to key findings of a survey conducted by the International Institute of Education, “39 percent of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35 percent reported an increase, and 26 percent reported no change in applicant numbers.” The survey of over 250 colleges and universities also showed that these declines mainly affected regions such as the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.
Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States from countries such as Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Iran was issued on January 27 and halted one day later. The streets were occupied with protest and U.S judges placed restraining orders on the ban due to its violations to the constitution.
The weekly update from UW-Milwaukee’s Office of Assessment and Institutional Research on May 1 shows some improvements of international students being admitted: Undergraduate admissions have decreased by 6.7 percent and Graduate admissions are up 7.3 percent.
Jennifer Gruenewald, director of International Student and Scholar Services at UW-Milwaukee’s Center for International Education, sees this enrollment decline as the product of many things.
“The dollar is strong and it has become increasingly competitive in recruiting international students,” says Gruenewald.
A strong U.S dollar makes tuition more expensive for international students. Universities across America are trying harder to attract international students because of the decline in applicants.
The recruitment of international students remains a priority for UWM, according to Gruenewald, but it is costlier compared to recruiting local and out-of-state students. Besides a budget, a university’s reputation and services available for international students causes some schools to accept all the students they can.
“A smaller group of schools are getting a bigger piece of the pie,” said Gruenewald. “When you have priorities, you have to back it with dollars.”
Other factors that caused the decline in international students were the withdrawal of scholarships from the Saudi Arabian and Brazilian Governments. Program capacity also limits the number of admissions based on particular programs.
This withdrawal attributed to a decline in Saudi and Brazilian undergraduate students between 2015 and 2016. This trend of enrollment decline overshadows the progressive time between 2008 and 2016, where UW-Milwaukee’s enrollment increased every year.
Nugun indicates that she believes cost is the primary reason why there aren’t more international students. Students from outside the United States typically pay double the cost of regular tuition.
“They should lower the fee, that is what’s keeping us out,” she says. “If they lower the fee and offer scholarships to international students as well, I feel like more are going to come.”
Nugun believes scholarships would be a boon to students around the world who want to study at UWMilwaukee.
“All the scholarships that are offered are only for citizens and green card holders. They don’t have scholarships for international students,” Nugun says. “They are paying like ten thousand. It’s really unbelievably expensive.”
Britz believes that the university must make more of an effort to gain international applicants in the face of the ‘Trump effect.’
“The political climate is different now,” he said. “There’s a sense of caution; there’s uncertainty. Even the big name colleges are worried.”
Britz notes that a lack of students from other countries has a multitude of effects on UW-Milwaukee’s traditionally diverse campus.
“The summer study abroad program will be affected. There will be less participants,” he said. “There are also undocumented students who came to the U.S as children. They’re worried they will be exposed.”
More worried than the universities even, are the students themselves.
Britz says, “There is a general uneasiness on campus even still, although it has declined since original travel ban. Many people are scared to risk travel plans back to their home countries this summer, regardless of them being listed on the ban or not.”
Britz is committed to supporting international students in this period of apprehension. He, along with other faculty members, advises students to stay in the country if possible.
“If your academic programs are interrupted in any way, we will work with you. We won’t let it be an issue,” Britz says. “We are a safe space for all students, students from every country, and we value our international students.”
The Provost is also working to increase the number of international students at UW-Milwaukee. A recent Strategic Enrollment Management plan developed by the Chancellor’s Enrollment Management Action Team (CEMAT) and released by Britz shows that the school is working to expand its concentration on international student enrollment.
One hundred and twentythree thousand dollars has been allocated to focus on gaining international students. Initiatives include creating an international student recruiting agent network in markets around the world and participating in recruitment fairs.
Diversity is an essential part to the living and learning experiences that campuses offer to students. A range of diversity in students from all ethnic, religious and social backgrounds are building blocks for communities.
Gruenewald acknowledges a lack of attention to the increasing diversity among students and says the university is making it a top priority to attract and maintain a community of international students on campus.
“Even though our application pool size is smaller, we are trying to get the yield up so that more admitted students come,” said Gruenewald. Gruenewald is prepared in these hard times but isn’t turning down the possibility of progress.
“We may see a dip in the coming years. My crystal ball says, after two or three years, things are going to start growing again,” said Gruenewald.
Nugun notes that diversity is one of the main reasons that UW-Milwaukee needs its international students. Without diversity, she says, the school will suffer a great deal.
“Diversity includes learning culture,” says Nugun. “I think it’s important for all the students that come in. This exchange in culture, this exchange in skills and education.”
When asked how UW-Milwaukee could do a better job of promoting diversity in the school, Nugun said that small organizations on campus are the key.
“I think the small organizations in school should be doing more,” says Nugun, “I feel that they’re not so involving to the international students.”
Nugun thinks that if oncampus organizations were more inclusive towards international students, the students would communicate with classmates in their home countries and encourage them to come to Milwaukee to study. She says that many students from abroad feel left out on campus.
“When they come here, they’re just left.”
Srijan Sen, an international graduate student, says that international students offer two essential components to universities and their surrounding communities: “Money and perspectives.”
“Foreign direct investment is good for U.S economy; the more you can attract foreign money the better it is.” said Sen, who noted that the integration of international students offers domesticated students with an unadulterated look into their experiences.
Sen remembers a fellow international student from Saudi Arabia during his career as an undergraduate. He remembers him as a friend and being able to learn about his culture from his individual perspective.
“I had a brief moment where I could learn about the culture of Saudi Arabia. International students bring a perspective that can’t be bought or heard on the media. You have to hear it from their faces,” said Sen.
Britz echoes Sen’s sentiments.
“We can learn from other cultures and gain perspective and insight,” Britz said. “We want to be an international campus. One of UWM’s most important assets is our strength in diversity.”