International grad student numbers jump

Denise Wright

In 2004, Renyuan Liao, who is currently studying for a doctorate in physics, took a year off from school – but not by choice. Liao was one of many international students who experienced trouble getting back into the United States about this time.

The number of international students who were admitted to American graduate schools rose for the third straight year in 2007, according to a recent article on The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Web site. Yet, after dropping sharply in 2004, the number of foreign students at American colleges and universities is still significantly lower than years before.

Kenneth Cushner, executive director of the Office of International Affairs, said Sept. 11 certainly had a huge impact on international student enrollment.

“After Sept. 11, several students had difficulties (trying to enter the United States),” Cushner said. “There were all kinds of roadblocks put in the way.”

One of the largest of these roadblocks was Visa restrictions, which were responsible for Liao’s situation.

In December 2002, during a routine visit to his home country of China, Liao had difficulty obtaining his Visa.

“Around that time, it usually took one to seven weeks to get your Visa,” Liao said. “It took me about one year.”

Liao said the snag in the process of obtaining his Visa occurred during his background check, but he never fully understood why.

“It just happened that way,” Liao said. “I hoped it would come someday.”

After waiting about nine months, Liao said he was informed his background check was complete, and he was able to return to the United States to continue his studies at Kent State.

While many international students found themselves in similar situations, Ted McKown, director of international recruitment and admissions, said other forces were also at work.

He said after Sept. 11, “the federal government did away with third party issuances,” which meant students could no longer go to Canada or Mexico to change their Visa status. In addition, the government extended the screening process for international students, especially in Middle East countries.

McKown said the United States seemed to be sending an uninviting message, and “international students felt very unwelcome here.”

Cushner said this caused some students to look elsewhere for education.

“Students had a fear of coming to the U.S., so they went to other countries,” Cushner said.

Cushner said in the midst of all this, there was an increase in national government funding in places such as the United Kingdom, Canada and other English-speaking countries, which resulted in more active recruiting from these places.

“In 2002, there were many students not getting Visas,” McKown said. “At the same time, you have the U.K. saying ‘we want you.'”

Cushner and McKown agreed these factors contributed to the national decrease in enrollment of foreign students, especially after 2003. They also agreed, however, that Kent State did not follow the national trend – at least not at first.

“Against all odds, we continued to increase (between 2003 and 2005),” McKown said.

The key to this increase, McKown said, was the OIA’s ability to “buy into the right markets” and promote various educational programs and majors that matched each countries’ needs. Despite these efforts, Kent State eventually experienced a decline in foreign students.

“We experienced our first hint of decline in 2005,” Cushner said. “We had a high of 917 (students) and we’ve been hovering around 840 for the past couple years.”

Nevertheless, both Cushner and McKown anticipate an increase in Kent State’s international student enrollment in the coming years, especially with Visa policies becoming less strict and increases in student recruitment and support.

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Denise Wright at [email protected].