International graduate school applications are trending 16 percent lower than at the same point last year, according to UNM’s Global Education Office.
Acting President Chaouki Abdallah told the school’s Board of Regents last week that applications from India, Iran and Mexico represent the largest declines.
Possible culprits include perceptions that the U.S. is not welcoming or a place where international students can find long-term employment, he said.
“We’re trying to deal with it, but it is a challenge when we have fewer applications, because then we will eventually have fewer students,” Abdallah said.
International students represent a fraction of UNM’s total population – 1,288, or 4.7 percent, of the fall semester’s 27,060 students – but their presence has grown.
The number of international students in UNM’s graduate degree programs – including Anderson School of Management – increased 31 percent from the fall of 2012 to fall 2016, a period during which the school’s total enrollment actually dropped about 7 percent.
Like many other universities, UNM has increased recruitment efforts outside the U.S., said Pablo Torres, the school’s director of international recruitment and admissions. As of last school year, UNM boasted students from 100 countries, including the United States, he said.
The university has also seen an increase in the number of foreign undergraduate students, but most of the school’s international population is concentrated in graduate-level programs.
While the number changes by the day, Torres said a recent “snapshot” found 898 international graduate applicants in hand compared with 1,072 from the same day last year. Undergraduate applications had remained steady.
Some university programs may still accept applications, though others’ deadlines have already passed.
Torres said there is no definitive explanation for the drop, but he noted recruiters recently working on UNM’s behalf in India reported hearing a lot of “political questions” with regard to student visas and President Donald Trump’s travel ban, as well as more safety-related inquiries.
Torres cited Indian media coverage of a shooting last month in Kansas that killed one Indian man and wounded another. The incident prompted the injured man’s father to urge other parents not to send their kids to the United States.
Other concerns include changes Trump could make to the H1-B visa program that allows highly skilled foreign workers to work in the U.S.
Torres said some students are “wondering if they would still be welcomed into the country.”
The number of UNM’s graduate applications from foreign students soared in 2014 and 2015, with computer science among the main growth areas. Torres said UNM’s denial rate in that program rose, which also likely contributed to the application dip experienced in 2016.
But he believes this year’s application decline is for other reasons.
And UNM is not alone.
In his remarks to the regents, Abdallah referenced an “Inside Higher Ed” report about a new survey on international application trends. The survey found that 39 percent of U.S. colleges had noticed drops in total international student applications, with the highest reported declines coming from Middle Eastern countries.
UNM’s efforts to recruit international students include last month’s release of a “You Are Welcome Here” video featuring students and other university representatives repeating that phrase – some in other languages.
UNM’s video has racked up 190,000 views through the university’s Facebook page. Many other universities have done similar videos as part of a national campaign.
Torres said the focus now is on converting as many applicants as possible into students for the fall semester.
“I wouldn’t say its inevitable (international enrollment will fall),” he said, adding that UNM could gain traction in some countries to combat losses it is sustaining in others.
At UNM, international students not on scholarships pay $17,107 per year in tuition, but spend nearly $33,000 when including housing and other expenditures, Torres said.