OP-ED: K-State needs to focus on its international students or it will lose them

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In the late 1880s, Kansas State University welcomed its first international student on campus. The concept of studying abroad was virtually non-existent back then.

Over time, K-State, and the United States in general, started welcoming immigrants and international students on college campuses. The arrival of international students at K-State has marvelously benefitted the university campus, Kansas and the country as a whole.

However, in less than five years, there has been a sharp drop in international students coming to K-State. It may not seem likely at first, but a decline in foreign student enrollment could lead to some severe consequences.

In fall 2014, K-State had an impressive 2,247 international students on campus. Until 2014, the number of international students arriving at K-State was increasing.

However, the number has fallen since then. By fall 2018, the number of international students on campus dropped 26.6 percent to 1,649 students.

International students bring a lot of benefits with them. According to the K-State Office of International Programs website, international students generate $61.8 million and created nearly 800 jobs for the Kansas economy.

Over 48 percent of all international students at K-State are enrolled in graduate programs, and 73 percent of these graduate students are doctoral students. The departments of business, computer science and electrical and computer engineering have the highest numbers of international students with 95, 91 and 97 students, respectively.

These students are the entrepreneurs and innovators of tomorrow. If they stay at K-State, they’ll create jobs and help develop Kansas and improve the greater economy. However, the decreasing number of enrollments from international students would negatively affect these advantages.

There are multiple reasons for the decrease in the number of international students coming to K-State, the biggest and most common reason being the rising tuition fees.

As an international student myself, in my freshman year, I paid $27,000 in fees even when I had a $6,000 scholarship. In my current year, awards and scholarships are rare and seldom helpful.

I have a total scholarship of around $3,000, yet I paid about $29,500 in fees this year, and this amount is increasing every semester. The increasing amount puts high pressure on our families, as most of us come from middle class backgrounds and have to take loans to pay our fees. The exchange rate for U.S. dollars doesn’t help at all, either.

Even after all the raises in tuition fees, there are no consistent scholarships available for international students.

For example, the award I had in my freshman year is non-renewable and paying fees became expensive in my sophomore year. That increased the number of financial tensions and pressures I already had in my mind.

On the other hand, Colorado State University offers renewable scholarships to its international students. The University of Texas at Arlington provides out-of-state tuition adjustment, through which out-of-state and international students who meet specific criteria become eligible to pay in-state tuition.

CSU and UT Arlington aren’t alone. Multiple universities across America offer renewable scholarships and financial aid to international students. The availability of such opportunities and support makes international students choose to study on these campuses rather than K-State.

Lack of scholarships and inadequate financial aid for international students at K-State has resulted in multiple active K-State students choosing to transfer to other universities across America.

Another reason why students are opting not to attend at K-State is because K-State lacks publicity among international students. Personally, I had never heard about K-State until November 2016 when I started my in-depth search and analysis of universities in America.

Lastly, international students are not choosing K-State, or U.S. universities in general, because of the current global political climate fueled by protectionism.

Past leaders of this nation, like President John F. Kennedy, called the U.S. “the nation of immigrants.” Now, the doors of opportunity are reduced for international students by introducing stricter visa policies. Because of this, students tend to give up on their lifelong hope of living the American dream.

In recent years, while K-State and the U.S. have seen a reduction in the arrival of international students, other countries like Canada have seen a consistent rise.

When I attended the career fair at K-State, at least three quarters of all companies that I talked with about hiring international students said that they don’t sponsor internationals. If scholarships, financial aid and job opportunities are refused to me at this university just because I am not a U.S. citizen, why should I continue at K-State?

Apart from the issues mentioned above, international students also have to deal with a lot of personal and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and homesickness. When we arrive on campus, we don’t know even the smallest things, like how classes are conducted.

Not all of us speak fluent English, so we have to go through the English language program. In that period before we speak enough English well enough, we are unable to communicate with native-born classmates and therefore unable to make friends who could help us understand the local way of life.

International students tend to live a separate life on campus, so while we call ourselves members of the Wildcat family, at times we lack the feeling of being part of that family.

I had the honor of speaking at KSUnite in 2018 where I talked more about the challenges faced by international students and the hopes that stand with them and motivate them when they encounter these problems.

If you’re an international student like me, now is the chance to make a local friend. If you’re an American, now is your time to make friends with an international student and help them feel like they’re at home.

I believe the best way we could solve the issue of decreasing international students is by starting a dialogue with and about international students.

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a sophomore in business administration. The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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