International student bubble bursts

'Not only is it going to hurt immediately, but it's going to hurt a little bit longer'

Colleges relying on international students to boost their bottom line are facing crashing enrollments from two significant populations, Melissa Korn and Ahmed Al Omran report for the Wall Street Journal

In recent years, Saudi Arabia's and Brazil's governments pumped resources into scholarships to help students study abroad. However, Saudi Arabia's contracting oil revenue and Brazil's political and economic turmoil have caused both programs to shrink drastically. 

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"Not only is it going to hurt immediately, but it's going to hurt a little bit longer," says Rahul Choudaha, CEO of DrEducation.

Most of the 140,000 Saudi students the government sent abroad attended U.S. institutions. But the double-digit percentage growth of the last few years has slowed and has even begun to decline at some schools. This winter, Saudi scholarship administrators narrowed eligibility requirements and are renewing grants for those only "at what the government considers the most elite institutions globally," Korn and Al Omran write.

Cleveland State University enrolled 577 Saudi students last fall. The population payed $7.43 million in tuition and fees. This year though, Saudi applications are at only 27% of what they were at the same time last year.

Tennessee Technological University has also seen a drop from the influx of Saudi students who helped fund residence hall renovations and construction of new engineering labs. In 2014, 484 Saudi students enrolled there, now they sit at just 181 students.

Brazilian applications and enrollments are also way down as the government awarded just 34 new grants this year. In 2015, it awarded 5,745. 

How to support international students on campus

Meanwhile, some schools are turning to another set of international students—but instead of seeking revenue from this group, they're earmarking scholarship funds.

In the last 12 months, at least 12 colleges have pledged to provide full or partial tuition to Syrian refugees—joining a cohort of 60 colleges who were already pledging to do so.

To date, schools have awarded scholarships to about 150 Syrians (Korn/Al Omran, Wall Street Journal, 5/24; AP/Wall Street Journal, 5/24). 

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