Data just released by the state’s universities includes some hints for challenging days ahead for the state’s higher education system.
In short, enrollment has fallen at the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Topeka’s Washburn University. Wichita State and Emporia State saw increases, but overall the picture is one of institutions working overtime to retain and attract students.
The challenges are many. There’s the overall cost, of course, which we have written about frequently this summer as the Board of Regents tackled the issue. There’s also the role of international students, who have buoyed enrollment numbers in the past but are now less likely to come to the United States.
As the website Inside Higher Ed reported in April: “The total number of international students studying in the U.S. at all levels declined by 2.7 percent from March 2018 to this March, according to quarterly data on student visa holders recently published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. … The new student visa numbers follow on data from the annual Open Doors survey showing two years of declines in new enrollments of international students at U.S. universities.”
In short, universities can no longer rely on increasing numbers of international students. And the reasons aren’t difficult to fathom.
The United States government treats immigration differently now. The goodwill and benefit of international visitors is no longer assumed. Applications for visas are treated more stringently and denied more often.
And those overseas can read the news. They can hear the rhetoric, can see the anger. They look at the same news stories about border walls as the rest of us. In China, one of the largest exporters of students to American universities, they can follow along with an emerging trade war.
Whether we like it or not, the United States — and Kansas — are part of an international system. That’s the same system that gives our state’s farmers markets for their crops and benefits our institutions of higher education. It gives our businesses access to new customers around the globe and lifts our overall economy.
There are debates to be had about immigration and globalization, of course. But many changes have already happened. They are already here. For our university, international students are a key component, both budget wise and for increasing diversity in a largely white and rural state.
We should pay attention to these enrollment numbers. If we want a robust system of universities in Kansas, we must have students attending.