With state financing slashed by more than half in the last three years, university officials decided to pull back on admissions offers to Washington residents, and increase them to students overseas.
That has rankled some local politicians and parents, a few of whom have even asked Michael K. Young, the university president, whether their children could get in if they paid nonresident tuition. “It does appeal to me a little,” he said.
There is a widespread belief in Washington that internationalization is the key to the future, and Mr. Young said he was not at all bothered that there were now more students from other countries than from other states. (Out-of-state students pay the same tuition as foreign students.)
“Is there any advantage to our taking a kid from California versus a kid from China?” he said. “You’d have to convince me, because the world isn’t divided the way it used to be.”
If the university’s reliance on full-freight Chinese students to balance the budget echoes the nation’s dependence on China as the largest holder of American debt, well, said the dean of admissions, Philip A. Ballinger, “this is a way of getting some of that money back.”
By the reckoning of the Institute of International Education, foreign students in the United States contribute about $21 billion a year to the national economy, including $463 million here in Washington State. But the influx affects more than just the bottom line — campus culture, too, is changing.
While the University of Washington’s demographic shifts have been sharper and faster — international students were 2 percent of the freshmen in 2006 — similar changes are under way at flagship public universities across the nation: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and University of California campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles all had at least 10 percent foreign freshmen this academic year, more than twice that of five years ago. And at top private schools including Columbia University, Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania, at least 15 percent of this year’s freshmen are from other countries.
All told, the number of undergraduates from China alone has soared to 57,000 from 10,000 five years ago. At the University of Washington, 11 percent of the nearly 5,800 freshmen are from China.
A few places have begun to charge international students additional fees besides tuition: at Purdue University, it was $1,000 this year and will double next year; engineering undergraduates at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had to pay a $2,500 surcharge this year.
“We’re in something akin to the gold rush, a frontier-style environment where colleges and universities, like prospectors in the 1800s, realize that there is gold out there,” said David Hawkins, the director of public policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “While it’s the admissions offices butting up against the issues most right now, every department after them, every faculty member who comes into contact with international students, is going to have to recalibrate as institutions become more international. I see a cascading list of challenges.”
They have already begun here at Washington’s flagship university, where orientation leaders last fall had to explain, repeatedly, the rigorous campus recycling practices, reinforce no-smoking rules and, at the make-your-own-sundae bar, help people get the hang of the whipped-cream cans.
But there are deeper issues, like how much latitude professors should give in written assignments.
“We recognize that people from other countries often speak with an accent,” said John Webster, director of writing at the university’s College of Arts and Science. “If we’re truly going to be a global university, which I think is a terrific thing, we have to recognize that they may write with an accent as well.”