In 2018, 550 international students were enrolled at Indiana State University, a number that illustrates a steady decrease over the last five years. 

ISU’s Center for Global Engagement cites two distinct reasons for the declining enrollment of international students: recruitment and student financing. 

However, there is also much speculation as to the effect of U.S. national politics on international enrollment.

ISU’s international student population consists of representatives from more than 35 countries. Saudi Arabia, India and China lead. 

However, since the fall semester of 2016, these top three countries have declined in enrollments; Saudi Arabia dropped 56%, India dropped 60% and China dropped 40%.

“There are a number of reasons for this drop. In general, ISU did not actively recruit international students. However, the new strategic enrollment plan includes recruiting international undergraduate and graduate students,” Chris McGrew, Director of ISU’s Center for Global Engagement, said.

ISU’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has a strategic plan for the University that includes six goals: diversifying the workforce; diversifying the curriculum; bridging the gap through connection, communication and collaboration; resources and institutional effectiveness; acknowledging and awarding diversity efforts on campus and increasing awareness and competency on inclusive excellence through quality and effective programming, training and education materials.

Funding for international scholarships, that over half of the international students use, has also changed during this time complicating student financing. 

That means the University doesn’t get as many sponsored students from around the world and it’s harder for students to study abroad.

Over half of Indiana State University international students used the International Scholar Award prior to changes in 2016 and there was also a change in the King Abdullah Scholarship Program sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government at that time. 

The King Abdullah Scholarship Program now requires its recipients to attend one of America’s Top 100 institutions. Indiana State University does not make that list. In the past, this program paid full tuition and living expenses for Saudi students, along with supporting their spouses and children, according to Al-Fanar Media.

“These students were important to Indiana State University because they added to the diversity of our campus and allowed all of our students to share perspectives in class that they may not have heard before,” McGrew said, “These sponsored students also generated a lot of revenue for the University.”

International enrollment at ISU represents 4.2% of the overall student population. 

This is considerably less than other Indiana institutions like Purdue University and Indiana University. Purdue’s percentage of international students to general enrollment is 25.4%, while Indiana University’s at 16.8%.

A more subjective reason for the decline in international student enrollment, according to McGrew, has to do with the change in political atmosphere of the United States and differing opinions about non-native students.

The total of international students in the U.S. stood higher than it ever had before at nearly 1.1 million in 2017-18; however, growth has slowed to 1.5% and is at its lowest in the last decade. 

During the Obama administration, growth ranged from 2.9% in 2009-10 to its highest at 10% in 2014-15. 

So far in the years of the Trump administration, international student growth was 3.4% in 2016-17 and 1.5% 2017-18.

“Some policies [made] by the Trump administration make some of our students feel that they may not be welcomed here,” McGrew said. “Fortunately, the University and community is working hard to make all of our students feel welcomed and appreciated.”

ISU’s international student enrollment decline is not unique. Other U.S. universities are also impacted by the actions and policies of the current presidential administration.

Current administration policies, including what was widely known as the Muslim Ban, stringent vetting for Visa’s, as well as immigration strife, could impact the decision-making of individual students and even the willingness of countries to support education abroad.

Open Doors, an information resource on international students and scholars studying at higher education institutions in the U.S., specializes in data on international enrollment. 

They investigated the potential impact of the 2016 presidential election and released a state-by-state breakdown.

Open Doors says although there were both increases and decreases seen in the top 10 states who host international students, there was no clear political divide based on statewide presidential candidate support in the 2016 election. 

Indiana was number 10 on that list, falling as a Trump state with a drop of 2 percent in international student enrollment. 

Number seven Florida was also a Trump state, but they enrolled 1.7% more international students. 

The largest increase was within a Clinton state, at number 4, Massachusetts enrolled 8.4% more. There were no Clinton states in the top ten that saw a decrease in international student enrollment.

Despite the politics, institutions such as Indiana State provide diverse curriculum that can draw international students.

Ashima Sitaula is an ISU graduate student from Laltipur, Nepal. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology which was not offered in her home country. This is why she decided ISU was her best fit.

“I was really nervous the first time I arrived at the university and even before attending I was worried if I would be able to adapt myself to the new environment,” said Sitaula, who is also a writer for the Indiana Statesman. “But everyone at [the] university made me feel really welcome and being a part of [the] ISU family is becoming an amazing experience.”

The programming from the Multicultural Services and Programs has helped Sitaula feel included, welcomed and a part of something bigger at ISU. MSP plays a large role in many events that students of all cultures, ages, ethnicities and backgrounds are invited to attend, such as Belief Zone.

“The mission of Belief Zone is to educate students, faculty, and staff on how to interact with individuals that have different religious beliefs,” the MSP website says. “The program provides participants with tools to understand differing cultures and be able to start and have the difficult conversations surrounding religious beliefs.”

There is also a program called Around the World in 90 Minutes that offers students a view of life in different countries in the span of an hour and a half. 

This program is put on directly by the International Student Resource Center and has showcased places such as, Nigeria and Morocco. 

“This program was designed to introduce the University community to our students, staff, and faculty from other countries,” the International Student Resource Center website says, “Students, faculty, and/or staff will present information about their rich culture.”

Sitaula found ISU based on her educational focus, but there are recruitment tools that both students and universities can use to match student interest and institutional offerings.

StudyPortals is a company that provides tools to recruit international students to universities around the world. 

StudyPortals alone accounts for over 36 million students finding and comparing institution options and selecting the right fit for them. Such partnering efforts may improve international student enrollment figures.

Claire Silcox wrote these two stories as part of an investigative reporting class this summer.