Colleges See Booming Growth Of International Students

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The number of international students in the U.S. continues to rise despite the recession, especially those from China. Host Michel Martin talks about this with Rahul Choudaha, associate director of Innovation and Development at World Education Services.

Michel Martin, host:

As a country we spend a great deal of time wringing our hands about the state of our educational system. And yet, hundreds of thousands of students from around the world still come to American colleges and universities to get their educations.

We wanted to talk about why that is and whats changed over the years, so we've invited Raul Choudaha. He's the associate director of innovation and development at World Education Services and an education blogger. And he holds a doctorate in higher education. And he's with us now. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. RAUL CHOUDAHA (Director Innovation and Development, World Education Services): Thanks for having me here, Michel.

MARTIN: How many students come from overseas to study in the U.S. in any given time?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: In the last year, there were more 675,000 international students enrolled in the U.S. higher education or the post-secondary institutions. And this number had been consistently growing for the last five years, actually. Apart from some decrease after the post-9/11, there had been a consistent increase for the students coming to the U.S.

MARTIN: And thats interesting to me for two reasons. One is that we kept hearing that after 9/11, it was more difficult to get a visa or student visa to come to the U.S. In fact, there have been a couple of highly-publicized, really unpleasant experiences that some international students had. And secondly, of course, the recession. And yet, the number of students coming continues to increase? Why is that?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Yes. Now, there are two primary reasons to it. One is the push factor, so what is happening in the local economies for the major countries which supply international students. So, for example, countries like India and China, the supply of undergraduate level students has really shot up because their systems have expanded, while they have not been able to absorb all the students which are graduating.

So a lot of these students since are permanently unemployed or not finding better opportunities, they also seek higher education. So thats one push factor.

But there is a lot of attractiveness of the United States as a destination for the long-term social mobility and economic mobility. And that attractiveness, or the pull factor, is also driving the attractiveness of U.S.

MARTIN: Where do most international students come from? Are there a couple of countries or is it pretty evenly distributed around the world?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Yes. So again, they are related in terms of the size of the source countries. For example, China and India, they are large economies, large population and hence they are also represented in a much higher proportion. Between China and India, nearly 30 percent of all the international students are coming from these two countries.

MARTIN: You said 30 percent?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Thirty percent. So every third student, in a way, could be a Chinese or an Indian.

MARTIN: And you talked about sort of push factors. Are American colleges and universities recruiting international students now? And why is that?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Yes. The options available for the international students have been increasing. But U.S. has maintained its preeminent position because of the long-term advancement, which U.S. offers.

MARTIN: Now, what is the appeal for institutions in recruiting international students? I mean, one assumption that I have is that there's very little financial aid available for international students. So I have to assume that most of students can pay. And if they do pay, they pay full price. Is that correct?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Yes. In most of the programs, the students would pay full price. The difference being that at the doctoral level, a lot of times financial aids are available for international students. But most of the professional programs, like the MBA, the financial aids are virtually nothing.

MARTIN: And what about undergraduate?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Yes, at undergraduate the financial aid is again very limited. And thats where it is also important to see how the recession and the changes in the budget availability for the public university has influenced more recruitment of international students, at undergrad levels, also.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you about that. Has there been any backlash against the recruitment of international students? I mean, you can see that any post-secondary education has become extremely expensive, particularly for middle-class families. Are any public officials starting to say, well, why are we offering places to international students when there are students from this country who can't find places at some of these premiere institutions?

Is there any kind of backlash brewing with the rise in the number of international students coming?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: There had been some indicators that people are feeling that, okay, why so many international students are being recruited when the local community is not getting the full access. And just to give you the numbers, the budget constraints, for example, have really gone down - budget availability.

For example, the state of Ohio, from 2008 to 2010, the state funding for higher education has gone down by 14 percent. Now, how do they make up for these fundings and how do they provide, continue to provide education to their community? And one of these source of revenue, to some extent, had been the international students because they pay out of state tuition. And most of the times, the financial aid is not available to them.

MARTIN: And on the other side of the coin, we're starting to hear about some stories around international agents engaging in some inappropriate practices to get students into educational institutions for which they may not be well-suited. Is that a growing concern?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Yes, like with any expansion process there are some misguided expansion strategies. So use of agents had been existing for a while, and especially for the countries like Australia and U.K. it had been a very well-established practice, while for the U.S. it's a recent phenomenon. And this recession has again given push to this practice of experimenting with agents. And one of the primary service that agents provide is actually to handle and advise these students.

But in that process, sometimes they go very far. And they may engage in unethical practices of maybe even forging and documenting the whole application, which is, of course, unethical and unprofessional.

MARTIN: And finally, before I let you go, can you just tell us your story? Where you an international student?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Yes. I came four years back to pursue Ph.D. in higher education and that is a domain I wanted to specialize. And completed my Ph.D. in two years and am currently working with the World Institution, which focuses specifically on international education.

MARTIN: And for those who are skeptical about international education, what would you say?

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Yeah. Actually the argument or the value of international education is very much similar to any value which diversity adds to the learning and the cultural understanding and the intellectual innovation. So it's a value added when international education is multifold from the learning perspective and it is well-documented.

But at another level, they are directly adding to the financial benefits of the economy. So according to a report in 2008, international students contributed $17.8 billion in terms of the tuition fee, living expenses and other related expenses. And this was thought as an important addition to the export of the education services, actually.

MARTIN: Rahul Choudaha is the associate director for innovation and development at World Education Services. And he blogs at DrEducation.com and he joined us from our bureau in New York. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. CHOUDAHA: Thank you, Michel, for having me.

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