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International Student Enrollment Declines At Several UW Campuses

Scholarship Program Changes Play Role In Decline, University Officials Say

UW System logo
Phil Roeder (CC-BY)

Several smaller four-year campuses throughout the University of Wisconsin System are seeing declines in international student enrollment, according to UW System figures.

UW–La Crosse has seen a steady decline in international students, going from 320 students five years ago to 153 students this school year.

The trend is one that mimics a nationwide decline in foreign students, according to The New York Times.

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Robert Packard is an international admissions specialist at UW-La Crosse. He said changes in scholarship programs from Saudi Arabia and Brazil impacted their enrollment. He said he thinks the current political climate is also playing some role in these numbers.

“Something we’ve noticed recently is students from countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, although we have a very small number of students applying from those countries, they’ve had a very difficult time getting visas … We’ve heard talk of increased scrutiny,” he said.

Packard also said international students will occasionally ask about safety in the United States, but it’s not a frequent occurrence.

Excluding UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, figures for the smaller four-year UW System campuses do show some fluctuation in international student enrollment, but most of the smaller four-year universities show declines from five years ago to this year.

UW-Platteville went from having 217 international students in 2012-13, to 249 international students in the 2014-15 school year, to 152 this school year.

Changes in scholarship programs, like at UW-La Crosse, impacted enrollment, said Donna Anderson, director of international programs at UW-Platteville. But, Anderson said, while international students pay out-of-state tuition, they don’t make up a large portion of the operating budget.

“We’re trying to diversify our international student population and really, you know, yes they do help the bottom line, but we really do want them here because they help us ultimately with internationalizing our curriculum and internationalizing our campus, and to help promote a global perspective in our students,” Anderson said.

An annual report on international students in higher education estimated they contributed nearly $40 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016.

To help address the decline, Packard said UW-La Crosse is ramping up international recruitment efforts.