Pandemic pushes 18{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} drop in international students at state schools | Covid19

When college students returned to campuses in fall, state universities reported a dip in enrollment. Many also noted one concern — fewer international students.

Northern State University President Tim Downs said during a news conference when enrollment numbers were announced that one big factor in the school’s decrease in full-time equivalent students was the drop in international student enrollment. Without those students, he said, Northern’s enrollment would have been up this year.

However, many international students could not get to the U.S. because of issues related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The result is 94 fewer students on campus, according to data from Northern’s Director of International Programs Dominika Blum. Northern has 40 international students on campus this semester. Another three are taking Northern classes online.

A year ago, Northern had 137 international students on campus. That was a combination of full-time, degree-seeking students and exchange students who staying for a semester or a year, she said. Blum said Northern typically has 40 to 50 exchange students on campus.

Drops in the number of international students were noticed at other state schools as well:

  • The University of South Dakota dropped from 229 in fall 2019 to 179 this fall.
  • The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology dropped from 149 in fall 2019 to 123 this fall.
  • South Dakota State University dropped from 674 in fall 2019 to 606 this fall.
  • Dakota State University dropped from 54 in fall 2019 to 49 this fall. Another seven chose to take classes online.
  • No information was available from Black Hills State University.

Presentation College, a private Catholic school in Aberdeen, saw an increase in international students on campus. The number jumped from 23 in fall 2019 to 30 this year. Presentation had 14 in fall 2018.

“We had a lot of students who got their visas last minute,” said Presentation Director of Admissions India Klipfel.

Among the state schools, that’s 179 fewer international students — a decrease of 18.3{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1}. And it isn’t just happening in South Dakota.

According to the fall 2020 international student enrollment snapshot compiled by the Institute of International Education and released in November, international student enrollment on U.S. campuses dropped 16{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} this fall.

Total international student enrollment was about 1.075 million in 2019. That puts total enrollment for fall 2020 around 903,400.

The survey also reported a 43{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} decrease in new international student enrollments. There were 267,712 new student enrollments in fall 2019 for an estimated 152,600 in fall 2020.

Like at Northern and Dakota State, some international students elected to take Presentation classes online. Klipfel said four students chose that option.

The schools are in agreement on the reasoning for the lower numbers — students weren’t able to get their visa requests processed at U.S. embassies in their home countries because of COVID-19.

Dakota State University Director of International Programs Nicole Claussen said once a campus approves an application for an international student, which includes an evaluation to ensure the student has the ability to pay, the student then needs to obtain a visa from the U.S. embassy in their country.

But U.S. embassies around the world closed early in the year due to the pandemic and only started to reopen with limited services in late July, according to news releases from the U.S. Department of State. While some are open and starting to provide interviews, Blum and Klipfel said, some of the embassies remained closed.

“It changes every day,” Blum said.

Full-time, degree-seeking students who already had approved visas could return to campus in fall as those are approved for a four-year period.

Earlier this fall, Blum and Klipfel were optimistic some students with pending applications would be able to complete the process and make travel arrangements so they could be on campus in spring.

Blum said Wednesday that student interest is still there. But out of 15 exchange students who plan to attend Northern, only one has made final arrangements.

Still, the desire to study in the U.S. remains, and Blum, Klipfel and Claussen are optimistic that more international students will be on campus in 2021.

Blum said she has 50 to 60 applications in process. Claussen reports a similar trend with 60 to 80 approved international student applications. But she also noted that not all of those students will receive visa approval. Claussen said U.S. embassies in some countries approve only 20{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} to 30{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of visa applications.

“Without COVID we would have had a huge number,” she said. “We had a record number of applicants.”

Claussen said the U.S. continues to be the premier place to earn a degree for international students. While some will defer their plans with the hopes of arriving in fall 2021, she said others might pursue options in the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia.

As for U.S. students who are interested in studying abroad, Blum said the same challenges are in place. Students planning on staying longer than 90 days must obtain a visa from that country’s embassy in the U.S. And, she said, student opportunities to travel abroad through school-sponsored programs this summer have been canceled due to the pandemic.

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