I am responding to provide additional context to Corey Minkoff’s Oct. 24 article “Long climb out” and to paint a clearer picture of national enrollment trends and the University of Kansas’ success at bucking those trends in recent years. The University’s international enrollment is a story of strong strategic planning, accurate analysis of a complex external environment impacting international student mobility, and effective program implementation. It is easy to lose sight of our effective stabilization and rebuilding efforts if a longitudinal view is taken only using the University’s all-time international enrollment high as a baseline metric.
Declining national visa application rates (showing declining interest in coming to the United States) and higher national visa denial rates (reflecting more restrictive immigration policies) are currently contributing to U.S. international enrollment declines. However, the University’s enrollment decline began in fall 2016 under a different administration and set of immigration policies. The University’s enrollment was hit particularly hard by national political turmoil in Brazil, which reduced the University’s Brazilian student numbers from 133 in the 2014-15 academic year to 18 today. Furthermore, the passing of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the restructuring of its scholarship program resulted in a decline of Saudi students from 190 in 2014-15 to 95 today.
The longitudinal focus of the article, describing a 14% international enrollment drop since the University’s international enrollment high point in 2015, reflects in no small measure the successful graduation of our largest international intake classes in history and masks two years of effective stabilization in new international student enrollment. This year, the University reversed a three-year decline in new international graduate enrollment with an increase of 1.3%, a remarkable success as the nation experiences precipitous declines in international graduate enrollment. Fall 2018 saw unprecedented growth in new first-year international numbers with a 33% increase from fall 2017. Following that growth, this fall has 34 fewer new international first-year students, but the number is still 7% higher than our low point in 2017.
Taken in combination with increased competition abroad and China’s success as a regional higher education hub, the University’s enrollment stabilization becomes even more remarkable. We have done this through hard work and by promoting the strength of the University’s academic programs, as well as our open and welcoming community. A campus that ranks 24th in the nation for study abroad participation rates and boasts the teaching of more than 40 languages is exactly the kind of institution that international students want to call home. The satisfaction levels for our international students are reflective of that. Furthermore, the University’s 16% increase this fall in international student diversity shows we are reaching more students from countries across the world than even before. Our incoming class comes from 66 nations around the world. The University of Kansas can be exceedingly proud of that.
Charles Bankart, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for International Affairs