Kent State international enrollment drops due to US political climate


Top sending countries of international students enrolled at Kent State University from the 15th Day Report. February 1, 2017.

Cameron Gorman

Kent State enrolled 3,045 international students in the Spring 2016 semester, according to statistics from University Communications and Marketing. For the Spring 2017 semester, that number sunk to 2,489.

Overseas issues in key countries such as Saudi Arabia and India, as well as the turbulent political climate in the United States, contributed to the decrease in enrollment of international students, according to the Office of Global Education and the reports of some international students.  

“When I came … in 2015, around that time, we were around 300-350 students that came from India. And then last year, I was invited by this international orientation and (at) that point, I saw there were, like, hardly 60-70 new students,” said Ashwin Maniyan, president of the Kent Indian Association. “In fact, in those 60-70 students, there were at least 10-15 students whose Visas were rejected the first and second time, and then the third time they got their Visa. So there was a lot of visa rejection that was happening in India itself.”

The Office of Global Education also recognized the increase in difficulty for students to study in the U.S.

“For India, the interest in studying abroad is still there, and coming to the United States, but what we were noticing is visa issuance rates were decreasing … and this is something that is at the discretion of the U.S. consulates in those cities or in those countries,” said Salma Benhaida, director of international recruitment and admissions in the Office of Global Education.

Job anxiety in India has also added to the dropping rates, exacerbated by “word of mouth,” which is one of the most driving factors overseas, Benhaida said.

“If, let’s say, one student is not finding a job out here, that student transfers his opinion … to ten other students back in India,” Maniyan said.

Scholarship funding has been slashed in Saudi Arabia, which Benhaida said, is one of the three top countries for international enrollment along with India and China. This decreased the number of students who can afford an overseas education.

“They have not been awarding scholarships to students as much as they had been in the past and this is something that is affecting all U.S. institutions including Kent State University,” Benhaida said. “We are one of the largest hosts of Saudi students in Ohio, so we may feel it a little bit more than some others who don’t have as many Saudi students.”

Problems in the home countries are not the most nebulous and uncertain issue facing the future enrollment at Kent State; It would be the possibility of the re-introduction of a full travel ban from President Donald Trump and his administration.

As of June 26, the Supreme Court has allowed parts of President Trump’s executive order to prevent citizens of six muslim majority countries to travel to the U.S for the next 90 days. The justices of the court made an exemption to the ban that allowed travelers with a “bona fide relationship” to people or entities in the U.S. Those who will attend school, currently work, or have family in the U.S. will be allowed into the country. The question now remains how these terms are going to be met and what specifically qualifies for entry.

“It’s more of the uncertainty, and for us, we always want to make sure that students and parents know that regardless of changes that may always happen in economics, politics, Kent State is always Kent State, and is always a friendly, welcoming place just like (Kent State President Beverly Warren) had said in her statement after the first travel ban,” Benhaida said.

During the period of the travel ban’s enactment, Warren released a statement that said “The faculty and staff of Kent State University affirm our long standing commitment to be a welcoming, inclusive environment where all feel at home. That commitment does not change as political or social movements change.”

Adriano Mangiryous, a student from Saudi Arabia, said he had been swayed by “anxiety and fear” over the ban to stay in the United States over the summer.

“I applied for summer positions. I’m currently working in campus just to make my summer more productive, but I was planning to go back home to make a new Visa so I can plan to study abroad as well, which was a part of my undergraduate plan,” said Mangiryous, a freshman biology major. “But then Mr. President’s order happened in January, and that blocked all my plans, so that’s something I would say may discourage people to Kent State in the future years unless anything gets resolved, at least for the Middle Eastern countries, I would say right now.”

As enrollment drops in America, Inside Higher Ed reported that four-in-10 institutions saw drops in international applications. That may be the case for the U.S., but some countries anticipate an increase in international student enrollment..

The New York Times reported that enrollment of international students expect to be “sharply higher” in Canadian universities in the fall. 

According to statistics provided by Marina Jimenez, a global media strategist at the University of Toronto in Canada, the college received a 22 percent increase in applications from outside of Canada and a 59 percent increase in students from India: 195 to 311.

“The United States is one of the top choices for international students to pursue the higher education, but with the restrictions happening, I wouldn’t say that would be a good choice for me, at least for my case,” Mangiryous said.

As a result of these issues, the Office of Global Education is seeking to re-invigorate international enrollment by diversifying their recruitment to other countries.

“I think one thing that we had always been setting in motion but now it’s a little bit more pronounced is strategies to diversify our recruitment portfolio,” Benhaida said. “You have to take advantage of favorable conditions, so if you have scholarships sending you students, obviously that’s a great opportunity for us to forge relationships with the scholarship bodies. But on the other hand, we are also working very hard to diversify our recruitment targets as well.”

The uncertain future of travel law in the U.S. also contributes to the amount of international student enrollment.

“We have to be, as we’re looking forward in our marketing plans and things like that, be aware that there’s a little bit of a change in perception if you will, among what we would call our marketplace all the way around the world,”  said Mike Taylor, marketing and communications specialist in the Office of Global Education.

Some of the other areas recruitment will market to includes Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

“Actually, we’re looking at several other locations … geographical locations. I think Southeast Asia specifically. Vietnam is one of our key target areas right now. We’ve had a successful recruiting trip there,” Taylor said.

Taylor noted that even though the enrollment rates are lower for the Spring 2017 semester, the university international enrollment rate is still higher than in previous years. The Office of Global Education expected the drop — the favorable conditions which had given them a spike in enrollment had ended.

“It’s a pretty good pace that we’ve kept, from say, 2008 to now. Over the past eight years or so, it’s grown fairly steadily,” Taylor said. “Even with the enrollment numbers we expect for this fall, we’re still going to have far more international students than we did in 2008, so we’re happy about that.

Cameron Gorman is a reporter, contact her at [email protected].