Undergraduate international student enrollment at Miami has continued its upward climb this year, despite early predictions that U.S. political anti-immigration rhetoric might discourage students from studying in America.
International students make up 14.5 percent of the undergraduate student population on the Oxford campus this fall, up from 13.4 percent in fall 2016, according to statistics from Miami’s Office of Institutional Research.
An Inside Higher Education report from September found that universities across the nation are experiencing mixed results in their international recruitment efforts. While major destinations for international students, such as New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, projected slight increases in their international student populations, other schools have experienced a decline one university president quoted by Inside Higher Education called “precipitous.”
Locally, Wright State University in Dayton reported a 20 percent drop in international enrollment across undergraduate and graduate levels. Indiana State University’s president told Inside Higher Education his institution saw a 50 percent drop in new international student enrollment.
“Those students bring significant revenue. I would guess that it takes two U.S.-based students to replace them in terms of revenue,” he told the website. “We also miss the diversity that they bring to the campus.”
An April report from the American Association of College Registrars and Admission Officers (AACRAO) showed that 77 percent of higher education institutions surveyed expressed concerns about international application yield, particularly from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America — regions that have been the subject of President Trump’s ire.
Additionally, 24 percent of responding institutions reported a decrease in undergraduate applications from China, and 26 percent reported a decrease from India.
At least for now, though, Miami’s international enrollment remains strong.
This year, Miami enrolled 2,485 undergraduate international students at the Oxford campus, 88 percent of whom hail from China. The second-most represented country is India.
Combined, these two populations make up 91 percent of international students enrolled at Miami’s Oxford campus, and about half of the broader U.S. international student population, according to a 2016 report published by the Institute for International Education (IIE).
Susan Schaurer, director of admissions, said Miami’s increasing international enrollment is representative of the reputation Miami has built in the last decade among international populations. Miami went from having only 113 international students in 2006 to nearly 2,500 this fall.
“International students really value a high-quality education. I think Miami has a great reputation, [as the] number-one public for undergraduate teaching,” Schaurer said, referencing the university’s recent ranking from U.S. News and World Report. “While we’ve certainly seen an increase in international enrollment over the last few years, it isn’t something we’re new at.”
And because international students aren’t typically able to visit schools in order to determine whether they’re a good fit — the typical advice guidance counselors give domestic students — they often rely on rankings to help make their college decision.
“It’s just a natural instinct that you have,” Schaurer said. “When you lack the ability to go out and explore firsthand, you are more apt to draw on what you consider to be reliable and reputable sources.
“If you think about our own purchasing decisions, and particularly a $200,000 purchasing decision, we rely a lot on rankings and what other people say.”
While Miami was able to avoid a drop in international student applications, the university’s most recent data indicates significantly lower graduation rates among the international undergraduate population when compared to domestic students.
Miami’s Office of Institutional Research measures the number of students who graduate within six years of enrolling at the university. About 80 percent of domestic non-minority students and 73 percent of domestic minority students who enrolled at Miami in 2010 earned their degrees within six years.
The six-year graduation rate for international students over the same timeframe was just 67 percent.
Yet, the retention rate from international students’ first to second years in 2015 was comparable to domestic students’.
The percentage of international students who returned to Oxford for their sophomore year — 93 percent in 2015, the most recent data available — was slightly higher than the Oxford campus’ total retention rate, which was 92 percent in 2015.
The reasons why international students don’t complete their degrees at Miami at a higher rate than domestic students can be hard to pinpoint, Schaurer said.
However, she said, Miami is taking steps to better understand the reasons international students leave Oxford. Among those initiatives is an institutional withdrawal form that asks students to detail their reasons for leaving the university.
The forms show that one of the most common reasons domestic students drop out usually doesn’t apply to international students at Miami, Schaurer says.
“[Domestic] students with lower-threshold GPAs are inclined not to return. That’s not typically what we see with international students,” Schaurer said. “Overall, they perform well in the classroom, and so that’s not necessarily what we’re seeing.”
More frequently, international students transfer from Miami to another U.S. university.
“The research will show that students will oftentimes transfer to what could be perceived as a more prestigious institution, perhaps a top-25 national institution or a top-ten national institution,” Schaurer said.
If international students don’t continue their higher education at a different American institution, they may return to their home nation due to financial strain or cultural differences, Schaurer says.
The university’s International Students and Scholar Services (ISSS) office has also hosted programming to aid student retention. Schaurer says it’s all in the name of maintaining an important global presence at Miami.
“[International students] are vital to the institution in terms of diversity of education and preparedness for interaction, leading, working, in a global society,” Schaurer said. “But also, they are a significant part of our incoming class each and every year and help us meet our enrollment goals. We want to ensure that our domestic students benefit from international students being here, and our international students get the opportunity to engage our domestic students as well.”