Universities scare away international students

University of Maryland President Dan Mote recently testified before a congressional committee on education about improving international graduate students’ access to the United States for education. Because of security measures implemented after Sept. 11, 2001, getting a visa to study here has become significantly harder. So much harder that the process has become a deterrent. This is reflected in the declining enrollment numbers of international students nationwide.

For once, politicians are acting on a problem within higher education. For example, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., plans to introduce a bill that will change the way visas for international students are processed, allowing more students to enter the country.

Mote’s testimony noted, international students account for $13 billion of revenue each year for the country. This means they contribute greatly to our education, not just holistically as a form of diversity, but also financially because international students usually pay full tuition, which includes fees American students would not pay.

However, universities should avoid specifically targeting international students because they pay more for tuition. This is becoming a problem in Britain, where universities are increasing international student enrollment. The schools aren’t doing it to add a new dimension to the student body, but because with more international students, universities can better cover costs. The danger, articulated in an article in The Guardian (“Market ‘forces universities to recruit overseas,'” Feb. 8), is British universities will start admitting more students from other countries than domestic students. This is unfair to both. Administrators and politicians should never let the problem get to that level and must find new ways to improve the conditions for international students, while helping students in this country afford the spiraling costs of education.

As much as international students contribute financially to higher education, universities should also make it a point to lessen the costs for them. It seems administrators do not consider education costs to be a deterrent. I know people from other countries who want to study here, but the cost of going to school here makes pursuing an education in this country difficult.

International students face the same problems as Americans, but their problems are amplified by the fact they are from another country. Their families and other sources of personal support are much farther away.

International graduate students play an important role at the university. They, like other graduate students, help teach undergraduate classes. A common complaint with many students, though, is they cannot understand what their teaching assistants are saying. This might sometimes translate into a general disdain for the presence of international students.

To enroll in many colleges in this country, an international student must usually comply with certain language requirements. This is usually found within the TOEFL exam, a test administered to determine the English proficiency of students who are not native speakers. But this doesn’t help with oral communication because most tests determining English proficiency focus on reading and writing.

Communication problems can be solved by training international students to speak English. The university of Michigan, for example, has a program in the works that will help teach international teaching assistants to communicate better. A University of Minnesota program involves retired professors volunteering to help teach international graduate students English communication skills.

Programs such as the one at the University of Minnesota and a greater focus on international students’ needs will make the environment on the campus more hospitable to international students and help distinguish the university as a truly global institution.

Noel Isama The Diamondback, University of Maryland.