David Zaret, Indiana's vice president for international affairs, says the school's interest in international students is educational, not "nakedly financial." He says IU could fill its out-of-state slots domestically, and points out that unlike some schools IU doesn't charge international students more than domestic non-residents, so there's no extra financial incentive. He also says there's been no particular effort to recruit Chinese students; he credits the extraordinary growth to hundreds of IU alumni now in China spreading the word. In fact, he said in a brief phone conversation from Argentina, "I'd like to see more balance," with more students from places such as South America and Turkey.
While international students bring revenue, there are also costs, obliging universities to expand services like international advising, English instruction, and even targeted mental health services. There is growing concern about the isolation of international students on campus. Expanding numbers may not help, just making it easier to find a bubble. One recent study found 40 percent of international students reported no close American friends.
Kedao Wang, a Shanghai native and one of about 6,400 overseas students at the University of Michigan, said his experience has been excellent but agrees growing numbers don't solve the isolation problem. Virtually all Chinese students struggle at least somewhat to fit in, due to language and cultural barriers. Wang, who goes by Keven, bought football season tickets all four years and loves the games, but rarely sees fellow Chinese students at Michigan Stadium. When he first arrived he tried not to hang out only with Chinese students, but his social life has since moved in that direction.
Still, he says, the shy students who once studied in the United States on Chinese government scholarships have been replaced by better-off Chinese who pay their own way and arrive more familiar and comfortable with Western culture.
Wang says Chinese students are under no illusions why they're recruited: "It's a market economy. There are people who want this who are willing to pay." Still, he'd like to see schools award more financial aid to internationals. Michigan non-resident tuition and fees ($41,870 for upperclassmen) are hugely expensive even for prosperous Chinese families, but are high enough that the international students who come here aren't socio-economically diverse (only a handful of U.S. colleges offer international students the same aid as domestic students).
"There are so many bright students in China," he said. "If you can give just a few of them a scholarship, they would come and succeed."
A U.S. education is still highly desired by Chinese students, but Wang says "10 years ago people only knew the top schools." Now they're looking beyond the Ivy League and learning more about the range of options (including, he said, the fact that some U.S. colleges are terrible).
"I think that's important," Blumenthal said of the trend of international students moving beyond the most famous schools and into state schools, community colleges and liberal arts colleges. "They need to know that America's as diverse as we know it is."
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