International Students Discouraged; Graduate Enrollment Sees Decline for Spring 2017

Spring 2017 graduate student enrollment (specifically for international students) has dropped following the introduction of a new presidential administration. Photo by Matt Nash.

Graduate student enrollment at SUNY New Paltz has dropped considerably for Spring 2017. There were approximately 690 graduate students enrolled during Fall 2016 and 850 this semester. Concurrent with the rest of the nation, the College has seen its international graduate student population decline, dropping from an expected 50 students to only five enrolled students. 

Laurel M. Garrick Duhaney, associate provost and dean of the graduate school, did not discuss specific numbers related to the decline but did confirm a significant drop in international graduate student enrollment. 

“One cycle does not make a trend,” she said. “We have seen declines in enrollment before, but not as steep as we saw this semester.” 

According to the SUNY Data Warehouse, during Fall 2015, 20 percent of the College’s graduate students were international students, leading the SUNY comprehensive colleges in international student enrollment. Most international graduate students come from Brazil, Saudi Arabia as well as India, which Duhaney stated has been an unreliable source for the College during the last year. This is due to the scarcity and considerable fluctuations in the rupee, India’s currency. 

Once on campus, international graduate students predominantly enroll in the School of Engineering, the School of Business and the department of computer science. Citing the past two admission cycles, Duhaney said that international graduate student enrollment contributed to growth in the College’s first-time enrollment for two graduate programs. 

However, countries that normally offer their citizens scholarships to schools in the U.S. are now unable to due so for monetary reasons. This trend is present in countries such as Brazil, whose enrollment in American schools have specifically fallen sharply due to the government’s inability to provide these scholarships. In a meeting with The Oracle last month, SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian cited the strong dollar as another economic challenge for international students. 

President Donald Trump’s executive orders have complicated the enrollment situation, causing a shift in student visas and immigration policies while creating additional obstacles for international students interested in coming into the country. Duhaney believes that the increasingly isolationist and anti-globalist policies put forth by the Trump administration cause international students to feel unwelcome in the pursuit of higher education in the U.S.

However, oftentimes the U.S. offers international students better educational opportunities than their home countries, according to Duhaney. She added that international students typically come to the U.S. to pursue research and job-related training that they believe will give them an advantage over their peers should they choose to work in their home countries.

Additionally, Duhaney stated that colleges in the U.S. depend on international graduate students to help address outstanding budget gaps. Christian confirmed that the College currently has a $4 million budget gap. Duhaney offered two options to reverse the enrollment decline, including diversifying which countries the College recruits from and increasing the size of its recruitment scholarships.   

“I am optimistic that the decline we are seeing is not a trend because we are going to try our best to turn the situation around,” Duhaney said.