Home Campus International student enrollment is dropping statewide; here’s what Ohio U is doing to fix it

International student enrollment is dropping statewide; here’s what Ohio U is doing to fix it

11 min read

Despite decreasing enrollment rates across the state among international students, Ohio University officials are looking to improve the college experience for current international students and brainstorming ways to boost enrollment in the future.

Lorna Jean Edmonds, vice provost for global affairs and international studies, said there are currently 1,222 international students at Ohio U, a number that has decreased in recent years. The Columbus Dispatch reported that number was down 34% compared to international enrollment in previous years at Ohio U.

The Dispatch report primarily cited President Donald Trump’s administration as a prominent deterrent for international students coming to the United States. Factors such as the 2017 travel ban and strained relationships with international partners such as China have made the U.S. less appealing to international travels in recent years, according to the report.

But Edmonds said there are other issues at play.

Another reason for declining enrollment could be that international students have several choices for where they could attend school outside Ohio, which includes staying in their home countries, Edmonds said.

She also cited challenges with the business of international recruitment. In many countries, students’ parents hire an agent who will work directly with representatives from international schools to recruit students. 

Developing relationships with international agents take time, money and energy. It can be challenging to bring in new international students if these relationships aren’t established, she said.

“From (the agents’) perspective, it’s become a business,” Edmonds said. “From our perspective, it’s how do we bring good quality students to our institution and build our academic enterprise.” 

Once international students arrive at Ohio U, they face many unique challenges. Diane Cahill, director of international services and operations for International Student and Faculty Services (ISFS), said her organization does the best it can to assist international students with anything they might need.

That includes everything from helping students with their visas to making sure campus dining halls have foods that fit their dietary needs. The office is also available to help students when they are having a hard time adjusting to life on an American campus.

“International students are going to face the same challenges domestic students face but with extra layers,” Cahill said. “I know all of our team spends time talking to students about struggles. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to because your class is hard or you’re not doing well, so we’ll be there to talk them through it and find solutions.” 

For international students, transitioning to American life can come with some expected challenges. 

Viktoria Marinova, vice president of the campus International Student Union (ISU), came to Ohio U in 2016 for her master’s degrees, but she didn’t anticipate the culture shock of adapting to life in Ohio.

Marinova, who has dual citizenship in both Bulgaria and South Africa, was already familiar with America media and culture before coming to Ohio U, but she still went through a learning curve upon arriving. 

Some of it was small, like trying to find fresh food similar to the kind she was used to at home. Other challenges, such as dealing with an ongoing fear of xenophobia, were a bit harder to tackle. 

“I was following the politics and had anxiety over the political change, so I was unsure about how that might impact me as an international student,” Marinova said. “There might not be extreme cases of xenophobia, but you always have that in the back of your mind when you’re an international person traveling to any country for a long period of time.” 

Despite those anxieties, Marinova enjoyed her time at Ohio U so much she wanted to stay to work on her Ph.D. in mass communications. 

Love for Ohio U is a common sentiment among international students. Edmonds noted that in addition to international student retention rates being similar, and in many cases better than retention rates of domestic students, many international students who come to Ohio U for their undergraduate degree often stay for their post-graduate degrees. 

Going forward, both Edmonds and Cahill said that Ohio U is actively investing in relationships with its current international students and alumni to increase positive relationships and to promote a good public image. That is a move Temi Olubakinde, a sophomore from Nigeria who studies accounting, views as valuable. 

“When you’re traveling to another country, you want to know where you’re going is a great place, and you want to hear that from someone who has personal experience with where you’re going to,” Olubakinde said. 

Both Marinova and Olubakinde personally heard about Ohio U through friends and family who attended the university or heard positive things about the school, and they continue to make connections on campus with other students.

Both are involved with the International Student Union (ISU), and cite the ISU as a great way to connect with other international students. They also enjoy resources such as the ISFS office and the Student Writing Center. 

However, Marinova thought other things could be more helpful when offering resources to international students. In particular, ISFS needs better advertising for their existing services, and needs to provide more workshops for international students outside of the initial orientation on topics like opening a bank account and growing accustomed to American culture, she said.

Cahill also acknowledged that the office always has room for improvement. Currently, the office offers a large survey for all international students in an effort to gauge the needs of students and what the office can do to satisfy those needs.

Edmonds is eager to make necessary changes to bring in more students and is confident that with more outreach, Ohio U can deliver a positive experience to any student no matter where they call home. 

“There’s something about OU that when they’re here, they want to stay,” Edmonds said. “Our challenge is to get them here, but once students get here, they have this really rich experience.”

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One Comment

  1. lance johnson

    October 31, 2019 at 4:19 PM

    Sadly, Trump’s contentious issue is yet one more thing that makes being an international student away from home difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language problems. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources, including the White House, to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey.
    Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.”
    Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    It explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest! Supporters of int’l students must shout louder.


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