University of Iowa

Proposed tuition hike for international students draws ire

December 1st, 2015

By Jeff Charis-Carlson, The Iowa City Press-Citizen

photo of Yanhao Wang

University of Iowa freshman Yanhao Wang of China chats with freshmen Yizhen Chen, left, and Yulei Zhu, both of China, as they eat lunch at the Old Capitol Town Center on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. (Photo: David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Iowa State University's student government is pushing back against a proposal to raise tuition $1,500 per year for international students.

The proposal comes as Iowa State and the University of Iowa are enrolling record numbers of international students.

ISU officials say the university has reached a tipping point and can no longer absorb the additional costs that come with educating 4,041 international students from 116 countries.

“The need has grown as the international student enrollment has grown,” said ISU Provost Jonathan Wickert. “We want to be able to maintain the quality of service that we provide international students."

Critics say if one Iowa public university separates tuition for nonresident domestic and international students, they fear the regents eventually will increase tuition for international students at all three public universities. It would be a way to raise revenue without sparking significant opposition on campuses or in the Statehouse, critics said.

The University of Iowa, which has about 500 more international students than ISU this year, has for nearly 15 years charged a per-semester fee for those students. This year, it's $70 per semester and $35 for the summer.

ISU student government has called on the regents to reduce the proposed tuition increase by at least half.

“I hope the proposal fails,” said Hamad Abbas, a senior political science major from Cedar Rapids. “... More discussion could have happened, and there is a lot more transparency needed in how the money gets spent.”

Students want to ensure the additional funds are treated like a fee, which can only be spent on services directly benefiting international students, rather than tuition, which can be spent anywhere at the university. The regents are scheduled to discuss the proposal during a telephonic meeting Wednesday.

photo of international students

University of Iowa freshmen Ruijing Xiong, right, and Yunyi Li, both of China, sit down for lunch at the Old Capitol Town Center on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. (Photo: David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen)

ISU officials said the proposed increase, which would be phased in over three years, would be used to cover the costs of additional writing and language instruction, culturally appropriate dining options, and visa assistance through the ISU Office of International Students and Scholars. The proposal also calls for 15 percent of the money collected to go toward providing additional scholarships for international students.

Wickert said university leaders reached out to various student government groups and international student associations for input on how the tuition should be implemented. It was because of student input, he said, that the university decided to phase in the new tuition and use a portion of the money for international scholarships.

ISU student leaders said they understand the need for revenue to address the university’s growth over the past several year years. But they would like to see that money collected through a fee — like at UI — rather than through tuition.

“One aspect of our proposal is that tuition revenue will basically follow the student,” Wickert said. “If one college has more international students and is growing in that regard, then those student tuition dollars will flow to that college to provide those services.”

Students said they would like to see a fuller accounting of how much extra international students actually costs the university in additional services. International students do not qualify for federal student loans and thus don't use many of the financial aid offices that serve domestic students.

“Claiming that there is a need for additional services is a bad claim,” said Abhijit Patwa, a fifth-year senior from India who will graduate in May. “It’s like they are forcing us to buy a service to pay for it.”

ISU officials came up with the $1,500 figure, Wickert said, by looking at other Midwest schools that have implemented supplemental tuition for international students. They proposed a middle point between the $800 charged annually by the University of Illinois and the $2,000 charged annually by Purdue University.

Wickert said ISU would remain among the most affordable schools among its peers, even after the full increase is implemented. If the $1,500 were added to ISU’s current $20,856 in tuition and fees for nonresident students, the total would be less than what is charged at the University of Iowa, Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University, the University of Illinois and Michigan State University.

The University of Northern Iowa does not charge any supplemental tuition or fees for the 616 nonresident international students enrolled this year.

It's possible the supplemental tuition could lead to a drop in the number of international students coming to campus. But Wickert said the Midwest schools that already have implemented supplemental tuition — including Ohio State, the University of Illinois and Purdue — have continued to see growth in their international enrollment.

Officials at UI and ISU said they have no plans to cut back on the number international students coming to campus, but they cautioned that the recent economic downturn in China — the largest source of international students for both schools — might slow the recent growth of international students.

International students by the numbers

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA

  • Total international students: 4,540
  • Countries represented: 113
  • Largest cohorts: China (2,797 students), India (341), South Korea (341), Iran (52), Saudi Arabia (50) and Canada (50)

IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY

  • Total international students: 4,041
  • Countries represented: 116
  • Largest cohorts: China (1,796 students), India (575), Malaysia (299), South Korea (235) and Iran (80)

UNIVERSITY OF NORTHERN IOWA

  • Total students: 616
  • Countries represented: 91
  • Largest cohorts: Saudi Arabia (211 students), China (144), Brazil (38), India (25) and Malaysia (15)