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UI sees fluctuating international student enrollment

BY ALEKSANDRA VUJICIC | DECEMBER 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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A rise in the number of students around the world seeking higher education has been seen in undergraduate programs at the University of Iowa, but graduate and professional enrollment experienced the opposite trend.

The UI’s undergraduate international-student population has grown significantly, with more than seven times as many enrolled since 2005. This year, there were 2,490 students enrolled, compared with 340 in 2005, according to data from the UI Office of International Students and Scholars.

However, graduate and professional enrollment has fallen by around 13.7 percent. In 2005, there were 1,755 enrolled, and this year that number fell to 1,515.

Several UI officials said the changing populations are a result of a few key factors.

Lee Seedorff, the senior associated director of International Student and Scholar Services, said the trend of increased numbers of undergrads, especially from China, is pretty much nationwide in the United States and due more to the educational system in China.

She said this trend, in part, comes from a lack of higher-education resources in China to accommodate the growing number of students seeking undergraduate degrees.

“China literally doesn’t have sufficient systems to accommodate everyone who wants to go to college, so for them, in one sense, it’s a matter of space,” she said.

This is further helped by improving economic circumstances in the last decade and a half, she said, in which more families can afford to send their students to college abroad. 

UI sophomore Jiahong Xu, a student from China, said a large contributing factor to the increasing number of undergrads is that an American education has become more affordable for Eastern Asians.

“They can pay the high tuition fees,” he said. “I don’t think that was possible for Chinese people to do a couple years ago.”

Along with affordability, Seedorff said, the Chinese college entrance exam, the Gaokao, may create an incentive for Chinese students to study internationally.

If students want to attend a higher-education institution in China, they must pass the exam.

“It’s something that students might spend months and years studying for, and it’s very high pressure from their families, almost kind of in an unhealthy manner in some respects,” she said. “If someone’s coming to the U.S., then they don’t have to take this exam.”

For the Graduate College, the data for international enrollment are going in the opposite direction, with numbers decreasing.

Graduate College Dean John Keller said that for many years, U.S. graduate education was a destination for many foreign students, particularly those from Asian countries.

As other institutions around the world have noticed the increasing trend of international students, they have put tremendous efforts into recruiting these students, he said, providing graduate students with more choices.

Abhay Shah, a fourth-year UI graduate student working toward a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, received his undergraduate degree in India.

He said that if he had attended the UI for his undergraduate coursework, it may have been more beneficial, because some departments offer a five-year track in which students can receive an undergraduate and graduate degree.

“There are more undergrads coming because they can save time and money with departments that offer five-year programs,” he said.


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