TRAVERSE CITY — Northwestern Michigan College is following the lead of national colleges when it comes to seeking international students to fill seats.
More than 800,000 international students — including nearly 236,000 from China — were enrolled in a U.S. college or university last year. That’s a 7.2 percent increase from the year before, according to a recent report by the Institute of International Education.
“The wave of Chinese is historic in how fast it’s happened,” said Peter Briggs, who heads up Michigan State University’s office of international students and scholars.
Michigan’s colleges are looking to faraway lands with particular interest because of projections showing a drop in high school enrollment from a high of more than 123,000 in 2010 to 86,335 by the year 2023, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
“The state of Michigan, along with Vermont, will see the greatest decline of high school enrollment in the 50 states in the shortest time,” said Jim Cotter, MSU’s director of admissions.
The declining Michigan demographic is playing against the tsunami-like growth of Chinese middle class families who are investing heavily in the education of their only child, Cotter said.
Cotter extolled the benefits of exposing Michigan students to other cultures and preparing them for the changing political and business landscapes.
“Are there financial benefits?” he said. “Absolutely. With declining state aid, those shortfalls have to be strategically thought-out.”
MSU charges $34,796 for out-of-state and international students, compared to $12,908 for in-state residents. International students at the University of Michigan pay $40,392, about three times the in-state tuition of $13,142. And at NMC, international students pay about $6,565, compared to a Grand Traverse County resident fee of $2,581.
Traverse City Area Public Schools expects to receive about $10,000 in tuition from its partnering private Chinese school, plus $7,000 from the state of Michigan for students in their junior year -- visa restrictions allow only one year of high school.
TCAPS officials assure area parents that Chinese students won’t steal coveted admissions at the state’s top colleges. Yet the percentage of international students at U-M and MSU undergraduate classes are climbing slowly but surely.
Ten years ago, 4.9 percent, or 1,219 students, of U-M’s undergraduate class was comprised of international students. This fall, 1,954 international students were enrolled and make up 6.9 percent of total undergraduates.
This fall, MSU’s freshman class of 7,887 students included 1,305 international students, or 16.5 percent. That compares to 95 students in 1999 or 1.4 percent of the freshmen class, said Jim Cotter, who also noted tremendous shifts around the world in the same time span. Fifty-eight percent of MSU’s international students are Chinese.
Cotter also added that MSU continues to enroll the highest rate of Michigan residents, and those who make the grade will be admitted.
“What tells the story is that last year we had 17,000 applications from the state of Michigan. We admitted just under 12,000 Michigan students and 5,600 chose to come to MSU,” he said.