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SUNY seeks int'l students to boost tuition, STEM enrollment

SUNY is paying recruiters to entice international students to enroll in the STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) that American students are not.
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SUNY is paying recruiters to entice international students to enroll in the STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) that American students are not.


For the most part, SUNY students are back in class. This fall kicks off the university system’s effort to enroll 14,000 additional international students over the next five years.

Administrators say the plan is a win-win: it will both generate much-needed revenue and beef up registration in science, math and engineering programs, which enroll relatively few American students.

More tuition money

During Albany’s ongoing budget crisis, SUNY has endured years of cutbacks, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. To replace that once-reliable source of income, administrations see tuition from overseas students as an integral part of a financial solution.

“Clearly [international] students, who are paying two-and-a-half times what local students are paying, are contributing more to the cost and the expenses of providing education,” says Mitch Leventhall, SUNY’s vice chancellor for global affairs.

To put the scheme another way, the value of those additional international students, in terms of tuition alone, is equivalent to SUNY admitting 35,000 New York students, meaning the system gets more bang for its educational buck.

More STEM students

Leventhall says this plan isn’t meant just to raise money: it’s also to fill spots in academic programs that cannot count on American enrollment alone.

“The unfortunate reality is that Americans are not enrolling in anywhere near large enough numbers in our STEM fields, [which are] science, technology, engineering and math fields. We need those international students to keep those programs running and healthy.”

“What we don’t want to do,” Leventhall adds, “is recruit international students in areas where we’re going to displace American kids and New York kids. So we’ll recruit where we have capacity to absorb additional students. ”

Paying for the right students

SUNY is relying on more than 50 private recruiting companies - which are paid depending on how many students they can successfully convince to study here - to find willing and able international students.

Outsourcing the task makes financial sense, Leventhall says.

“The advantage to us, of course, is that we don’t have to front money or put money at risk with uncertain results. They’re paid on success after we’ve received tuition from the student. That’s very good for us because we’re not exactly cash rich,” he says.

According to the National Association of International Educators, New York’s economy already sees a $2 billion a year boost thanks to spending by international students - a number SUNY only sees growing in the future.

If SUNY is successful with its goals, the additional students would represent a 44 percent increase from current levels. Yet less than half of SUNY’s 64 campuses are participating in the initiative, meaning the boost will be spread unevenly through the state system.

Still, no matter where the tuition dollars come from, the money all heads the same general fund in Albany.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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