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How many is too many international students per college?

States play a balancing game when deciding the number of out-of-state students a college should enrol. Source: Shutterstock

Lawmakers in Ohio are scrutinising one community college in the state over its enrollment data. Their reason? The majority of the roughly 20,000 students at Eastern Gateway Community College are from out of state, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The college is subsidised by the state, and lawmakers are concerned that its online “free college” programme Eastern Gateway, created for a large trade union of public employees, is benefiting out-of-state students instead of in-state ones. While the state helps fund public universities to educate the former, it’s limited to students who move and likely stay to work in the state post-graduation.

Matt Dolan, a Republican State Senator said in a hearing last month: “What will happen over time, very shortly, is your enrollment of kids who never step foot in Ohio will greatly cripple the rest of the community colleges’ access to SSI (State Share of Instruction) dollars.”

The scrutiny gives us a rarer look at the impact of out-of-state and non-resident students. Most reports of international students – who are considered as out-of-state – tend to highlight the positive impact they have on their university and surrounding community.

They add diversity, enrich the experience of other students on campus and most importantly for the institutions, pay double or even triple in fees compared to local students. As public and private coffers continue to tighten, the higher fees they pay compensate for declining subsidies and smaller budgets.

According to US News, the top three national universities with the highest percentages of international students in the 2017-2018 academic year were the Florida Institute of Technology in Florida, The New School and the University of Rochester, both of which are in New York. International students made up 32 percent, 32 percent and 24 percent of the student cohort respectively.

Among liberal arts colleges, California’s Soka University America has the highest enrollment of international students, at 43 percent of its enrollment. This is followed by Massachusetts Mount Holyoke College with 27 percent and New Mexico’s St John’s College with 26 percent.

But too many international students could become a problem. Eastern Gateway’s case shows how these benefits are significantly reduced when international students, who come from other states like New York or California, do not step foot in the college.

Eastern Gateway’s president, Jimmie Bruce has defended his institution’s expansive enrollment of out-of-state students – there were 14,000 out-of-state students in online programmes last spring while in-state enrollment was 5,500. In an Ohio Senate committee hearing earlier this month, he said the college received about US$1 million – or roughly 10 percent of what it received from the fund – for the online programme’s out-of-state enrollment.

What these students pay in tuition and fees – around US$23 million in the last three fiscal years – more than makes up for the state subsidy, Bruce explained.

“It is an instructional subsidy and we have used every dollar to hire Ohio faculty and support staff to educate EGCC students,” he said in the written statement. “I am very proud that our college has created 1,000 faculty, support staff and adjunct faculty positions related to this initiative.”

Each dollar of state subsidy “has a huge multiplier effect”, said Bruce.

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