International Student Enrollment

International Student Enrollment since 2010. (Data: University of Oregon, Design: Morgan Darby/Emerald)

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Jim Brooks was the associate vice president for student services and enrollment management. Jim Rawlins holds this title. The story has been updated to reflect this information.

International student enrollment at the University of Oregon has hit its lowest figure in almost a decade, having dropped by nearly half since 2015.

In fall 2015, about 3,200 international students were enrolled at UO, according to annual enrollment reports. But this fall, only about 1,700 international students have enrolled — a decline of about 46% in the last four years.

To increase enrollment, the school is hoping to expand recruiting efforts in certain promising countries, such as Mexico, India and Taiwan, said Jim Rawlins, the associate vice president for student services and enrollment management.

“We're changing where we go right now,” Rawlins said.

This decline is not a new trend at UO nor at universities around the country. At UO, international enrollment has been declining since its 2015 peak, according to enrollment reports.

Most of the decline at UO is a result of fewer students from China enrolling. In fall 2015, UO saw 2,215 students from China, according to enrollment reports. This fall, fewer than half of that number enrolled, or 1,028 students. (UO President Michael Schill acknowledged that the school has overly relied on Chinese enrollment, he said in a Q&A with the Emerald.)

Rawlins said he hopes to move away from recruiting students from China in light of declining enrollment and is starting to look toward other regions — such as Canada, Europe, “the rest of Asia besides China,” Central America and South America — for new prospective students, Rawlins said.

The 2015 peak at UO aligns with national trends, where international student enrollment at U.S. universities has been steadily declining, according to the 2019 Open Doors report on international student enrollment. The data comes from the Institute of International Education, an international-education nonprofit that offers study abroad programs and research in international students in the United States.

UO International Student Association President Chiara Cheng said that, though she hasn’t seen any immediate impacts of dropping international enrollment in her club, she and other ISA members are concerned about what it could mean for campus.

“Our goal is not necessarily to increase international students on campus,” Cheng, a junior accounting student from Cremona, Italy, said, “but it's trying to make the most out of the ones that we have already, trying to bridge that gap between domestic and international students.”

Most countries also saw decreases, according to enrollment data, such as Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea. A few countries did see small increases, though those that did see increases have fewer than 30 students at UO, including Spain, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Brian Sun, a former ISA outreach director, said UO is simply not a very popular school for prospective international students. Anecdotally, Sun said his friends’ families in China take factors like school rankings into consideration.

“Nobody knows where Oregon is,” Sun, a junior theatre and chemistry student from Harbin, China, said. “We're not a top 100 school. … And usually Asian families look at rankings, top 50, top 100, where you fit into. And UO is just not any of them.”

Cheng, citing her own experience, said that her family also has a culture of valuing a school’s prestige.

In fall 2019, international enrollment levels have fallen to almost the same levels as those from the 2010-11 school year. That year, 1,712 international students enrolled in fall, comprising about 7.3% of the student body.

The revenue from the international student support fee, the $200 fee international students pay each term to fund international student-specific programs, has not necessarily seen a direct impact from enrollment, said Abe Schafermeyer, the International Student & Scholar Services director.

Cheng, who’s not surprised by declining international enrollment, said one potential factor could be tuition increases.

“If I knew that the tuition was going to increase this much every single year, I would have not applied to this school,” Cheng said. “Why would someone want to spend so much more money to be here, when they already know that the political environment is so hostile that the chances for us to be here after graduation are so low?"

In the last decade, the cost of education at UO has steadily increased each year. International students pay nonresident tuition like out-of-state students. Nonresidents in the 2019-20 school year pay about $34,335 in tuition, according to tuition data. This especially pressures international students when the U.S. dollar is strong relative to other currencies, Rawlins said.

“There are all these things out there that are just so much more beyond our control than with domestic recruitment,” Rawlins said.