Pandemic, Trump immigration policies wreaking havoc on students — and the U

International and out-of-state student populations decline sharply, leading university to admit waitlisted students en masse

The pandemic and the Trump administration's immigration policies have created financial uncertainty at the U. Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota.

The pandemic and the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies have created vast uncertainty for international students — and the University of Minnesota’s finances and educational landscape. 

The University of Minnesota has seen an increasing share of revenue from a growing international student population for the past several years. During the past four years, tuition revenue from Twin Cities campus’s more than 5,700 international students has risen by almost $20 million, totaling almost $155 million of the school’s $970 million in tuition revenue. The U estimates the confirmed international student enrollment for incoming freshmen is down about 23% at the flagship Twin Cities campus compared to this time last year. 

Coupled with a collapse in out-of-state student revenue, the U’s financial outlook for the fall is uncertain. University officials said the revenue shortfall will be made up for with higher tuition in some graduate programs, as well as tuition of in-state students. 

Caitlin Hurley, a university spokeswoman, said the impact of a smaller international and out-of-state student class will be relatively minor given how much of the total population they represent. 

In fact, however, in fall 2019, about 20% of new students on the Twin Cities campus were international or from “nonreciprocity states” — meaning from states without in-state tuition reciprocity agreement with the U.

U officials said they won’t have precise enrollment figures for all students — including international students — until the fall. 

In the meantime, international students face increasing uncertainty about what the school year will look like, with the U.S. government and ICE announcing Monday international students taking classes solely online may face deportation. 

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel. Courtesy, University of Minnesota.

The U is offering a mix of online and in-person classes come fall. In a campuswide email Tuesday, University President Joan Gabel said the school would work to accommodate international students with in-person classes to help them stay in the country. 

The U also joined other schools in an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit against the ICE decision. A university spokesperson said international students should work with their advisors to find in-person options once instruction methods for all classes are solidified. 

University sophomore Jonah Shi, an international student from China, said he was shaken by the news but plans to stay in the U.S. for his degree.  Although all of his classes are slated to be taught online next semester, he’s looking into taking a physical education class to fulfill the in-person requirement. 

“I still like living here,” Shi said. “I still have my friends here.” 

Shi doesn’t know when he will be able to return to China. He said one of his friends from the U has already decided to transfer to a school in China rather than deal with taking online classes from abroad. 

University Regent Michael Hsu said he wants more information about the effect of the school’s fall plan on international students. He said the U has not informed regents how many students are in the country now vs. abroad, and what their plans are come fall. 

“We have a finite amount of international students,” Hsu said. “We should know what their plans are. I would think we should know exactly who is in the country right now and who’s not.” 

Hundreds of out-of-state students also not coming

In addition to its burgeoning international population, the U has also seized on a strategy of recruiting out-of-state students, and then in recent years raising their tuition steeply. This was another way to raise revenue in the face of perilous times for higher education. 

Since 2016, nonreciprocity tuition for new undergraduates has increased by around $3,000 per semester. Last fall, around 3,400 undergraduates were from states other than reciprocity states. 

The U estimates its domestic nonreciprocity freshman student enrollment is down about 13% on the Twin Cities campus compared to this time last year. 

Hurley, the university spokeswoman, said the U has largely been able to offset tuition revenue losses through increased in-state and reciprocity numbers, which includes students from Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Manitoba. 

The university is also raising tuition for a few programs, including graduate degrees in engineering, medicine and dentistry. 

All together, the U projects it will lose around $1.3 million in tuition revenue, Hurley said. 

To compensate for the lower numbers among international and out-of-state students, the U has also extended offers to 1,972 waitlisted students on the Twin Cities campus to help make up for tuition revenue. More than 400 have accepted so far. 

In other words: The freshman class will be a different one — a weaker one, one could argue — than the U had hoped and planned for. 

Hsu said letting in freshman from the waitlist could affect the geographic diversity of the class. Measures including ACT scores and GPAs could also suffer, but it’s a matter of demand, Hsu said. The U will go test-optional come fall of 2021 and won’t require an ACT score for applicants, so test scores will no longer be a relevant measure of quality anyway, Hsu said. 

“If people want to come here we should let them in,” he said. “I believe access is really important right now.” 

Reconsidering graduate school here

Yaxin Wu is an international student from China who has one more year to finish her degree in early childhood education. Wu had planned to return to China during the summer, but her visa expires in August, and she worried about getting it renewed if she left the U.S. 

Wu plans to stay in Minnesota to finish her degree, but the pandemic has made her unsure about whether or not to pursue graduate school. 

“I was struggling with my major courses already, and I think this is COVID-19 has affected my decision whether to take the graduate school entrance exam or not,” Wu said.