Tuition hikes hurting campus diversity

For the first time since 1998, Northern Kentucky University is seeing a decrease in its number of international students.

This year’s tuition increase of 16.7 percent has contributed to a loss of 34 international students from last fall, according to Director of International Student Affairs Viki Kimball.

“This is pretty substantial,” said Kimball.

In fall 2003, international student enrollment was at 419 students from 87 different countries.

More than 50 percent of this group enter the United States on a student visa. These students are required by federal law to show that they have the financial backing and capability to study in America for a year. At NKU, this amount is currently about $19,000 a year.

Kimball said that most of these students have a sponsor back in their home country who helps support the students. However, when tuition increases, international students don’t necessarily get more money from their sponsors.

“When we have a 34 percent increase (over two years), that’s really hard to plan for when $1,000 could feed a family in many parts of the world for a year,” Kimball said.

Additionally, Kimball said that economic situations and national disasters in other countries are also a problem, as exchange rates can hurt international students’ financial statuses.

“They have to show they have ($19,000), but one week later it might be worth $10,000,” Kimball said.

Only international students with green card status are eligible for any form of financial aid. In fall 2003, that equated to only about 32 percent of NKU’s international students.

However, all international students can apply for scholarships.

“The international students generally have very good GPAs. We encourage them from day one to apply for scholarships… And that helps,” Kimball said.

“The problem is when you have students that are here that have a 3.5 GPA and can’t get any scholarships anywhere, because there’re so few and they’re very competitive. And that’s very frustrating.”

When an international student can no longer afford to study at NKU, Kimball said they usually search for a community college.

“They’re compromising their education,” Kimball said, “because they came to a 4-year university, and now they’re looking for a community college because they can’t afford to stay here anymore.”

According to Kimball, some international students are forced to drop out of college altogether.

Kimball said that the problem is not just rising tuition – the costs associated with parking, books and room and board have all increased as well.

Another side of this issue is on a national level. According to Kimball, the government is now denying more student visas than they are granting. In fact, this fall, 35 of the 53 international students applying to NKU were denied student visas.

Kimball said this is due to stricter security checks and longer processes.

According to the U. S. Department of State, international students applying for a student visa are viewed as intending immigrants until they can convince a consular officer that they are not. Its Web site states that international students “must be able to show that they have reasons for returning to (their) home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the United States.”

Kimball said that this is the reason many international students are denied student visas, as they are presumed to be an immigrant until they can prove that they’re not.

“Schools across the country have been experiencing major decreases in international student enrollment for the past couple of years,” Kimball said.

Kimball said that she has alerted the university administration of this growing problem.

Senior Director of Administration and Student Services Bridgette Pregliasco said that university officials will be meeting soon to look at the impact tuition increases are having on international students.

“The administration certainly is aware… (but) I don’t know what if anything can be done,” Pregliasco said.

As multiculturalism is one of the university’s core values, Kimball hopes that a solution will be found to this potentially serious problem.

“Diversity benefits both American and international students,” Kimball said. “They’re learning from each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

“The more diverse kinds of environments you can get… the more differences you can get around you, the more you’re going to learn about yourself and the world.”