Board of Trustees ponders future of international student enrollment

Tierra Thomas

Although finding solutions for declining international enrollment did not initially appear on their list of topics, the Kent State Board of Trustees made time to discuss it anyway.

“We keep going for the in-state (students), but to me, where is the huge push on bringing out-of-state, full pay?” asked Virginia Addicott, a board member, diverting the conversation from the topic of loss in tuition revenue to ask the question. 

The board met Wednesday and covered audit and compliance, though it briefly turned into another discussion. 

“Sorry to belabor you on one slide for so long,” she said, causing everyone in the room to erupt in laughter.

With 2,913 international students enrolled, making up 10 percent of students on the Kent campus, Addicott questioned how the university can increase international enrollment.  

“We’ve got indication that a lot of international students are not so keen to come to the U.S.,” she said. “What is the game plan? What is the strategy?”

Mark Polatajko, the senior vice president of finance and administration, said he thinks optimizing expenses and maximizing revenue would help.

“We want to continue to generate revenue through managing enrollment strategically and effectively to sustain this momentum we have,” Polatajko said. “That’s our priority.”

During the brief conversation, Addicott made it clear she was not referring to students who live on the border of Ohio, mostly in Pennsylvania.

“I don’t want to stop talking about international students because you want to have them (at Kent State),” she said.

Addicott, also the president and CEO of FedEX Custom Critical, shared some insight on how she handles her company, relating it to the enrollment of international students.  

“For me, in a business, I’m constantly watching how many people I’m adding, what I’m spending in salaries, wages and benefits versus my revenue coming in,” she said. “If that revenue isn’t growing, I’m not adding.”

Trustee Stephen Perry wondered whether the university’s current revenue, which exceeds expenses, could have an effect.

“I think the question to some extent is if that would be considered the equivalent of that income,” Perry said. “Is that income really strong enough to add on more students?”

Polatajko thinks so, but not necessarily for international students.

“We definitely have additional capacity to accommodate to additional enrollment both on undergrad and grad sides,” he said, “but keep in mind that in fiscal year ’18, the most significant impact is on international students, specifically the undergraduate area.”

Although the change of topic happened for only a short amount of time, the trustees agreed on the importance of it.   

“It’s conversation,” Polatajko said. “That’s the purpose here.”

Tierra Thomas is the African-American student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected]