How can US colleges and universities integrate international students?

The US press is starting to realize that many American universities are not doing a great job of integrating international students on their campuses. In the last few days, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have published articles about international students struggling with English and the norms of the US education system, sticking together in country-of-origin cliques, and generally making local students and residents feel uncomfortable. These, of course, are the same issues that come up when dealing with other types of migrants.

Universities often see international students in purely economic or transactional terms: you give us tuition dollars, and we give you a diploma. As a part of that transaction, you may come to live in our community for a few years. What that looks like and how we can make that experience work well for everyone is not particularly important to think about.

European governments thought the same way about guest workers from the Middle East during the postwar boom. They’d bring in bodies for a predetermined time, exchange marks and francs for labor, and send the bodies back. But those bodies weren’t robots. As the Swiss writer Max Frisch had said, they asked for workers but people came. Social beings with all of the complications that being social entails.

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Ottawa update

View from inside the National Gallery of Canada.

Greetings from (surprisingly sunny) Ottawa! I’ve been settling in for the last few days and will begin dissertation fieldwork next week. I’m here to speak with policy experts, lobbying groups, and civil servants about Canada’s immigration policies for international students. It seems that I arrived at the right time. Just this week, the government discussed making it easier for international students to become permanent residents.

I received generous support for my stay in Ottawa from the UCLA Canadian Studies Program and the Social Science Research Council-Mellon Mays Graduate Initiatives Program. My institutional affiliation in Ottawa is with the University of Ottawa; my faculty sponsor is Hélène Pellerin in the School of Political Studies.

Other news: Just before I came to Ottawa, I advanced to the semi-finals of UCLA’s Grad Slam, a competition in which graduate students present their research for a general audience in three minutes or less. My speech, entitled “Rolling out the red carpet for the best and the brightest,” focused on why Canada has been so much more welcoming to international students than the US. Congratulations to all of the finalists!

Universities’ fiscal dependence on international students

Protest against levying tuition on non-European students in front of the Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo credit: ISU-Norway. Source: NRK.
Protest against levying tuition on non-European students in front of the Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo credit: ISU-Norway. Source: NRK.

Stephen Connelly from the Melbourne-based educational consultancy firm GlobalEd Services notes that 18.7% of university students in Australia in 2014 were international, as compared to about 16% in Canada and 4% in the US. However, the US enrolls far larger numbers of international students. The proportion is smaller because the domestic US population and the US higher education sector are far larger than Australia’s or Canada’s.

Connelly notes further that international students were the source of 16.3% of Australian university revenue in 2013. The numbers would look very different for US colleges and universities, given that there is a large non-profit private sector and that even many state universities are dependent on donations and endowments. While New York University and the University of Southern California (both private) enroll the largest numbers of international students, state universities like the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and Purdue University are not far behind.

While enrolling more international students and having tuition and fees from international students become a larger proportion of university revenue is not necessarily a bad thing, politicians have used it as an oblique way of reducing state support for higher education. For example, see how the Norwegian government tried to start charging tuition to international students to make up for budget cuts.