EAST LANSING, Mich. — According to the 2021 Open Doors Report, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, international student enrollment at U.S. Colleges was significantly down during the pandemic. Even though Michigan State University predicts numbers to be back up to pre-pandemic levels this fall, COVID-19 isn’t the only challenge international students and the University are facing.
“About 10 to 12 percent of our students are international students,” said Krista McCallum Beatty, the director of the Office for International Students and Scholars at MSU. “Wherever Michigan State is we have international students and scholars there. It's very much part of the culture of MSU to have internationals here.”
Beatty said, COVID affected international student enrollment.
“In the fall of 2019, we had just over 5600 international students enrolled, the fall of 20, we dropped down to about 4200 international students,” Beatty said. “But this past fall, fall of 21, we were back up to about just over 5200 students. I’m anticipating that in Fall 2022, our numbers will be back up.”
MSU’s international students come from more than 140 different countries. One of them is soccer player Gianni Ferri, an international student from Canada who is here on a student visa.
“Our team is such a family. So, it's kind of my home away from home kind of thing, if you know what I mean. And I mean, I'm not too far away from the U.S., but I fit in really well,” said Ferri, who's majoring in communications.
The struggles from the pandemic impacted students and the university. With enrollment down, so too was tuition. If international students are not on an athletic scholarships, they typically pay the highest tuition rates.
“One difference that a lot of people don't realize is that international students are not eligible for state and federal financial aid programs in this country,” Beatty said.
At MSU, undergraduate tuition and room and board costs around $25,000 a year. For international students at MSU, the estimated cost is $61,000 a year.
“Many of our international students, particularly at the undergraduate level, are funded by their families. And so, if their families were experiencing financial difficulties, because of the pandemic, it was harder for their students to come here to study,” Beatty said.
According to the Open Doors report, international students coming to the U.S. for higher education have a significant positive economic impact on the United States. International students contributed $39-billion to the U.S. economy in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“The economic contribution of international students is significant, especially if you look beyond the university, because they pay rent here, they buy cars here, they buy groceries here, they contribute quite a bit financially to the communities," Beaty said. "However, the greater contribution is what they bring as students and individuals and the community service. I'm just blown away; international students still amaze me.”
FOX 47 News spoke to several MSU international students about their education, the pandemic, the opportunities and the challenges they face.
“Everything is a big deal. I don't know why. And maybe it's because we're young adults. And we're not used to making decisions for ourselves necessarily,” said international student Jade Arundell from Ireland. "So, everything just feels like the biggest deal ever."
“I was only really friends with other international students in my grade, because like, they could understand the discomfort that we were all feeling,” Arundell said.
Having english as a second language also poses difficulties.
“I knew my way around the language pretty well. So it wasn't that big of an obstacle. But field hockey-wise in and school as it was, because there's a lot of terms that you just know, you don't know yet,” said Isa Van Der Weij, a senior student from the Netherlands.
And getting around...
“If you want to go to the grocery store, I have to ask my roommates all the time and they're fine with it, but you don't want to be a bother them and you're really restricted to your house or to your apartment,” Van Der Weij said.
And like all other college students, they have a lot of decisions to make after graduation. But theirs require a visa in order to stay in the U.S.
“I'm scared to even start the process because I'm scared to just be denied,” Arundell said. “I'm going to be here for five years, I've done diligence, I've gotten my degree, I've paid international taxes, you know, I've spent money here - It's not like I just I took from the system - And then to be kind of like, ‘I can't have it anymore’ is really heartbreaking because even if I wanted to do it, I'm not allowed. Yet, you just gave me the most amazing opportunity in my life and you're taking away maybe the next possibility. I do find that realization really, really hard.”
“I really like it and you feel like you spent four years building a life here. And then your're supposed to leave it behind and go back, back home and like your friends back home have moved on. So, I feel like I'm going to be very lonely when I get back. And I'm not looking forward to it,” Van Der Weij said. “It feels like you live in like a double life almost. You got your life here and then you get your life in the Netherlands. And then when I leave here in two semesters, like this whole life will kind of like be over."
With those challenges, Beatty and the University are working hard to help international students by providing them with resources, student groups and other opportunities. MSU wants to retain it's pre-pandemic number of international students and continue to grow it in the future.
“I think an area where I would like to see some changes is in helping international students get internships… because just like for domestic students, it's so important for international students to get some practical experience in their field,” Beatty said.
Beatty says another area of change could be the limit on online classes. International students are required to be enrolled full-time. Before the pandemic, they could only count one online course towards the full-time enrollment status each semester. Since the pandemic, this requirement was lifted.
“Going forward, my hope is that the federal government will approach it thoughtfully, and look at how online education has changed,” Beatty said. ““The limit of one online course towards full time enrollment has been in place for at least 10 years, if not 15 years, and online education has changed so much… So, I hope as we go forward, that that's taken into consideration, and that there's maybe a little more flexibility than there used to be around online education.”
Beatty said, everyone is welcome to Coffee Hour at the International Students Office from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“Michigan State has such a long and rich history of enrolling international students. We have a global presence through our alumni. I experienced this in Beijing, early when I started here. I had a Michigan State cap on, and some random person yelled ‘Go green’ I think that reflects both the commitment of Michigan State to our international community, but also the pride our international alumni have in having attended Michigan State and being a Spartan for life," Beatty said.
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