International student tuition and the funding crisis to come

One does not need to be an oracle to read the future in the cracking bones of the United States higher education system. The combination of reduced state support, increasing reliance on tuition fee revenue and decreasing domestic and international enrolment is coalescing into a hulking morass.

In 2017, inflation-adjusted state appropriation for higher education was down 10% from the decade prior and marked the first year that tuition fee funding eclipsed educational appropriations in the majority of states, according to a report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. 

While tuition fee increases have supplemented state support, it has come at a high price for students in the form of US$1.5 trillion of debt and economic preclusion from tertiary education. 

From the 2012-13 to the 2017-18 academic year, domestic enrolment declined 8.3% (according to National Center for Education Statistics data) as the gap between investment and its return widened.

International students have become increasingly important tools in the uphill battle to combat declining domestic enrolment and state support. While domestic enrolment peaked and then decreased consistently since the 2012-13 academic year, the breadth of total enrolment drops has been mitigated by international student enrolment, which increased 33.6% over the same period, according to data from the Institute of International Education.

International students, who pay on average three times more than their domestic counterparts, provide crucial financial resources to higher education institutions and constitute the majority of graduate students in STEM courses – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A dangerous game

Increasing reliance on international student tuition fees is the catalyst for transforming international higher education in the US from a diplomatic enterprise to the financial linchpin of strategic plans. 

Couched in a hybrid language of college counselling and business vernacular, the discourse surrounding international student recruitment is morphing more into the latter as students become ‘customers’ and the failure to attract them falls on the institutions, which are unable to meet the demands of a market-based higher education system into which they are unwittingly thrust. 

Aware of the writing on the wall, US higher education institutions now scour the globe in order to subsidise and supplement funding in an increasingly crowded market for recruiting international students.

The problem with this approach is that it only works until it doesn’t. The strategy of increasing tuition fees and searching far and wide for more students to pay it, hits a point of diminishing returns. Tuition revenue from a dwindling pool of students will not only shrink, but its consequences will (and do) reverberate throughout society and the economy as the population of college-educated Americans reduces and the level of student debt grows.

Complex problems and simple solutions

The dual decline of domestic and international student enrolment and the impending financial consequences expose the short-sightedness of the tuition-fee-based funding model. 

Having failed the viability test on the domestic front, we’ve exported this model globally in the hope that international students will continue to fund and populate college campuses regardless of the cost. With new international enrolment declining 6.6% this year (according to the Institute of International Education), it’s hard to make the case that it will.

It is an American predilection to believe that we can fix systemic problems through the same mechanisms that cause them. We are told that we can fix our healthcare system through greater exposure to the market, that our costly and overcrowded prisons should be privatised, that our universities need to better mirror the private sector with its quenchless thirst for financial capital. 

As a result, we lead the world in healthcare costs and incarceration. Our colleges and universities, the most expensive in the world, are at risk of falling into the same category of systemic rot.

The ramifications of diminished financial resources and fewer students is clear. The recent spate of school closures, both for- and non-profit, is symptomatic of the problems facing the US higher education system. Institutions shut down en masse, the quality of education suffers, resulting in greater decreases in enrolment, thus deepening the problem.

Rather than resign ourselves to the status quo, there is a responsibility to tackle the problem head on and save our most valuable and resilient institution – the university. To do this, we need to be honest about the causes of high tuition fees, from the construction of Babylonian campuses, to our increasing willingness to look the other way as state support dwindles.

International students, some of the best and the brightest in the world, bring us diversity and exposure to new cultures. They leave as ambassadors for American education and thought. They are not a panacea for the financial woes of our colleges and universities, morally or practically speaking.

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Table of Contents

Подведены итоги конкурса «HED-Scholarship»

International students in Russia can start studying without restrictions

Университетам

Webinar 'Internationalization of higher education' under the aegis of APQN to be held on February 18, 2020

The QS expert highly appreciates Valery Falkov's achievements as Rector of Tyumen State University

International students of Tomsk universities to apply for Russian citizenship by the end of their studies

North-Eastern Federal University promotes Russian language and culture in China

The Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education to review the mechanism of international students' education

Scholarships to study in Russia in 2020-2021

KazNU expands partnership with leading universities of Saudi Arabia

Uzbekistan and Japan will move to a new level of scientific cooperation

EU allocates 8 million euros to support education in Kyrgyzstan

RUDN University has created an integrated space for digital cooperation

Russia and China have mapped out joint plans in the field of science and higher education

China promotes international education in space science and technology

TPU International Week 2019 held in Tomsk

Webinar schedule: Internationalization of higher education

Study shows which universities lead the way in promotion of summer schools

The National Aggregate Ranking of Russian Universities

The Accreditation in Education Journal and the Public Fund Edinstvo have become partners

Belarus and Nigeria are cooperating in the field of education

Russian and Chinese universities have agreed to establish the International Transport Academy

Summer schools attract international applicants to Russian universities

Russian and German experts discussed the issues of university and academic science

The 15th FICCI Higher Education Summit in India

Russia to create 50 Pre-University Training Centers abroad by 2024

More than 30 Russian Universities in the THE ranking

Russia will simplify work rights for international students

The First Russia-UK University Rectors Forum

Webinar 'How understanding neuroscience can help you transform your team and your organization'

“MEDIAactivity of Russian universities” and “TOP-50 MEDIAactive Rectors of Russia” announced at Interfax

RUDN and Rosatom will train staff for African projects

Is Africa the future for recruiting international students?

Danish Government Scholarships under the Cultural Agreements

Over 7,000 foreign students will study IT at Russian universities

European Universities Initiative – Chances and challenges

Belgian students demand free higher education

Uganda and Russia signed a Memorandum of cooperation in higher education

Angola and Russia signed an Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Education, Qualifications and Academic Degrees

The 10th ENQA General Assembly took place in Yerevan

Students supported by the Global Education Program choose Australia and Great Britain as study abroad destinations

Call for participation – Webinars under the aegis of APQN devoted to Quality Assurance

Regional universities move up in QS University Rankings: Emerging Europe & Central Asia

New Model of State Control (Supervision) in Education

HED Webinar under the aegis of APQN took place on October 10, 2019

Joint Master's programs to be launched by RANEPA and University of London

III Ufa International Education Fair

II Baikal International Education Fair

Adalat Muradov talks about digitalization of education in Azerbaijan

India has a too high number of arts students