State Budget Cuts and China Boom Driving 2011 International Enrollments and 2012 Applications

Recent cuts in state support for higher education by a majority of state legislatures around the nation are forcing university leaders to make tough choices in balancing their budgets, and on the revenue side this means increased tuition fees. To cushion the blow to in-state residents, many school leaders are seeking to significantly increase enrollments among out-of-state students, including those from abroad, who on average pay 152 percent more [1] than their in-state peers at public four-year institutions.

Nowhere has this delicate balancing act been more evident than on the West Coast of the United States, where state budget shortfalls and higher-education cuts have been particularly hard hitting, and where out-of-state and international enrollments have been rising rapidly.

West Coast Budget Woes

In Washington State, budget writers are currently facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall, while the state’s six four-year colleges and universities have seen state funding decline by more than 50 percent over the past four years. Under current legislative budget proposals further cuts are likely, with a $166 million hit to higher education being floated by Gov. Chris Gregoire for this year. The University of Washington (UW) responded in 2011 with a 20 percent hike in tuition, the largest in school history, while the current UW budget projections for 2012-13 show an increase in undergraduate tuition of 16 percent. Not surprisingly, the school has rapidly been growing enrollments from outside the state and country.

In Oregon last year, the state’s seven public universities [2] were hit with a two-year, 11 percent cut in state support after the passage of the current budget. It represented the third biennial decrease in a row for the university system, bringing the level of actual state funding ($709 million) to less than it was a decade ago. In response, the State Board of Higher Education [3] raised 2012 tuition an average of 7.5 percent. The universities now rely on students for about 70 percent of their instructional money, well above the national average [4] of 48 percent.

In California, the two state university systems lost $750 million, or 24-27 percent, each from their general budgets in 2011 as a result of lower-than-projected state revenues in 2010. Students at California State University [5] will face a 10 percent fee hike this fall on top of 29 percent increases over the past year and a half, while University of California [6] students paid 18 percent more for fall 2011 classes than they did in 2010, and more than double what they paid in 2005.

Nationwide, overall spending on higher education declined approximately $6 billion – 7.6 percent – in 2011, according to the annual Grapevine survey [7] by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, [8] which was released in January this year. A report [9] issued a week earlier by the National Science Board [10] found that spending had been cut at nearly two-thirds of the nation’s 101 top public research universities between 2002 and 2010.

According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association [11], which co-published the Grapevine report, California’s $1.5 billion in spending reductions over the past two years accounts for 26 percent of the national decline in higher education spending. In a statement, Paul Lingenfelter, president of the association, predicted that states with the largest declines were likely to see large tuition hikes and increasing pressure to recruit out-of-state students, including those from abroad.

2011-12 Institutional Enrollment and Application Numbers

University of California

The University of California (UC) system, which has long been attractive to international students, has been working hard to increase enrollments from out of state and internationally. These students pay about $23,000 more than their domestic peers in additional tuition fees. At the Los Angeles campus alone, non-resident undergraduate tuition brought in just under $60 million in the 2010-11 academic year, with projections of over $72 million in the current year.

In 2011, non-residents across the 10-campus system represented a total of 13.9 percent of the total student body, as compared with 10.7 percent in fall 2010. At the undergraduate level, about 6.9 percent of students are currently from out of state. The UC Board of Regents has pledged to cap the system-wide number at 10 percent of total enrollment, which leaves room for growth.

According to Walter Robinson, campus assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate enrollment, in a June interview with The Daily Californian [12] last year, the target for the overall campus non-resident population within the next few years is approximately 20 percent.

“We started this whole trajectory of setting a non-resident enrollment target so we wouldn’t have to reduce the total number of entering undergraduates,” Robinson said. “Without the non-resident fees, we would have to reduce our total number of Californians by more than the number we’ve currently reduced them by.”

Application numbers from abroad for 2012-13 look strong. Across the University of California system, preliminary data [13] show a year-on-year increase of over 5,800 international freshman student applications for fall 2012 versus fall 2011, amounting to a total of 17,551 prospective international students applying to one or more of the system’s 10 campuses. While there was an almost 50 percent increase in individual applicants overall, no one campus – except Merced – saw an increase in applications of less than 50 percent. The Los Angeles campus, which hosted the fifth largest population of international students [14] in the U.S. last year, saw applications jump 69 percent to 9,818, while UC Davis, Irvine, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz all saw application increases in excess of 90 percent.

Given the huge surge in interest among prospective international students for a UC education, it would appear that internationally popular campuses such as UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego will have the opportunity to significantly boost overseas full-freight enrollments, if they so choose.

According to campus spokesman Ricardo Vazquez, UCLA has received strong and diverse applicant interest from abroad for academic year 2012-13.

“UCLA received applications from students in 112 countries this year. The top countries include, in this order, China, South Korea, India, Canada, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Thailand. In some cases, the number of applications has more than doubled over the previous year,” Vazquez said in an emailed response to questions, adding that the campus is “not seeing declines” from any country.

And those application increases will more than likely be reflected in final 2012 enrollments. According to Vazquez, “UCLA’s fall 2012 enrollment target for non-resident freshman (domestic and international) is about 1,425 students. The target for California resident freshman is about 4,000 students. In fall 2011, UCLA enrolled 975 non-resident students.”

Current plans would see UCLA grow overall non-resident undergraduate enrollments to 15-20 percent of the total undergraduate population in the next few years. Currently, non-residents comprise about 12 percent of all undergraduates, up from about 8 percent just a few years ago, according to Vazquez. However, UCLA admissions officials are quick to point out that raising non-resident enrollment is about more than the bottom line.

“There are two important reasons for increasing the number and proportion of non-resident students UCLA enrolls. We believe that increasing the number of international and out-of-state students is important because non-residents increase the geographic diversity of our student body, bring new perspectives and ideas, and help prepare our students to work and compete in a global economy. We consider ourselves to be a global institution, and geographic diversity is extraordinarily important for our students to learn from each other. At the same time, it is true that non-resident students generate resources that allow UCLA to maintain its instructional capacity and enhance the quality of education for all students, especially as the state has become a less reliable funding partner.”

University of Southern California

At the private University of Southern California [15], which boasts the largest body of international students in the country and where enrollment decisions are unencumbered by revenue shortfalls in Sacramento, applications are again looking strong for fall 2012.

According to Timothy Brunold, USC dean of admissions, the university’s international freshman applicant volume increased to 6,348 for fall 2012, which represents a 49 percent increase versus last year. Overall, internationals comprise 14 percent of this year’s total applicant pool, which itself is up 21.5 percent to 45,230. That compares to 11.5 percent of freshman applicants last year.

As has recently been the case at most schools around the country, USC’s international applicant numbers are being driven by China from where applications grew by 54 percent to 2,450. Behind China, South Korean and Indian volume was also significantly up – by 42 percent (900) and 37 percent (502) respectively; followed by Canada (up 19 percent to 289) and Mexico (up 156 percent to 241). In all, 4 of 5 international applications to USC came from one of 10 applicant-sending countries, with Taiwan, Hong Kong, the UK, Singapore and Indonesia rounding out the top 10. In the current academic year at USC, there was an increase in international enrollments of 4 percent, almost entirely driven by a 29 percent increase from China.

As a selective private university, USC is not under the same kind of pressure as public universities and non-elite private universities to grow the bottom line by enrolling international students who can pay full freight.

“Our interest in international students is driven chiefly by our university’s strategic vision. We value the diversity they bring to our campus, as well as see their presence as being essential to our goal of providing an educational environment that is relevant to today’s world,” Brunold explains.

In addition, the university’s position as the country’s number one institutional host of international students is clearly a point of pride.

“We’ve led the U.S. in international student enrollments for a decade and don’t have any plans to give up that spot,” Brunold points out.


Oregon’s seven public universities enrolled the largest number of international students ever in 2011. This comes after a four-year period where international student enrollment at Oregon schools has grown by 45 percent, which The Oregonian [16] reports as being twice the rate of universities nationwide in the same time period.

This additional funding from out-of-state tuition fees has been instrumental for Oregonian institutions in managing budgets. Nowhere in Oregon has this been more apparent than at Oregon State University [17] (OSU).

In his State of the University address [18] in October of last year, OSU President, Edward Ray first points to the major cuts in state funding that his university has had to absorb, before addressing the solutions, beginning with out of state enrollments.

“For the last several years we have managed our enrollment to increase our out of state and international enrollment substantially, while maintaining moderate growth in resident enrollment to significantly increase tuition revenue.”

According to Ray, “overall enrollment growth was close to 8 percent for the second year in a row last year [2010] and is expected to be close to 5 percent this year [2011], with more than two-thirds of that growth from non-resident populations.”

Oregon State is one of three public universities in the United States that have signed long-term agreements with INTO [19], an international recruiting company that also offers English-language training and academic ‘Pathway’ programs to help prepare international students to enroll in full degree programs. The INTO OSU [20] facility was recently relocated to a newly dedicated International Living-Learning Center [21].

“This new center is a wonderful, vibrant symbol of all that we have accomplished together since 2008, when we launched the process to create INTO OSU,” said Sabah Randhawa, the university’s provost and executive vice president, in an October news release [22] issued before the dedication ceremony for the International Living-Learning Center. “Growing our international enrollment and continuing the globalization of Oregon State for all of our students is a top priority, and the center is a significant part of that effort.”

Randhawa and OSU President Ed Ray have set a goal for the university to have an international enrollment that is 10 percent of the overall student body, according to the university news release. This fall there were 974 international undergraduate students and 682 graduate students enrolled at OSU, or approximately 6.5 percent of the university’s overall enrollment. This compares to 4.5 percent a decade ago.

Colorado State University [23] recently became the third university in the U.S. to sign a deal with INTO. Like OSU, the Fort Collins-based campus has been facing a steady diet of cuts in state funding over the last four years, with more promised for 2012-13 as the state looks to close a $500 million budget gap.

In the 2010-11 academic year, international students made up 3 percent of CSU’s student body, or 1,133 students. Beginning in August 2012, INTO will begin recruiting for CSU and according to a CSU news release look to enroll about 350 additional students. Within five years, CSU is looking to double enrollments from existing levels through its partnership with INTO.

In addition to the cultural benefits of increasing international enrollments, CSU Provost Rick Miranda said that the agreement and increased tuition “will broaden and diversify the university’s revenue streams and will position CSU financially to continue to fulfill our land-grant mission, provide access to great numbers of capable students, and to meet the academic needs of students throughout Colorado and the world.”


In Washington, where state budget cuts have been particularly hard hitting, public universities have been seeing big increases in international enrollments. At the University of Washington [24], students from abroad currently account for just under 18 percent of the freshman class. This compares to just 2 percent in 2006. However, the university didn’t start actively recruiting until this academic year.

In a recent interview with The New York Times [25], admissions director Phil Ballinger speculated that the university’s popularity among international students – Chinese in particular – is based largely on reputation.

“As best I can make out, it’s just word of mouth,” said Mr. Ballinger. “We’re well known in China, we’re highly rated on the Shanghai rankings, and we have a lot of contacts.”

In the current academic year, more than one in 10 of the University of Washington’s freshman class is from China. These students pay three times more than their in-state peers and help cover the grants that allow one in four who qualify as low-income students to pay no tuition at all. This comes at a time when state financing has been reduced by more than half in the last three years.

While the university has not been actively recruiting international students, there has been a conscious decision on the part of university officials to reweight admissions quotas to increase offers to overseas students and reduce offers to Washington residents, according to the Times article.

The Midwest

Schools on the West Coast of the United States benefit from enhanced cultural and economic relationships with Asia, not to mention relative geographic proximity, which helps when enrolling from abroad and especially from China. There are well-established Asian communities in the major metropolitan areas of California and Washington, and many schools have a long line of international alumni helping them promote their campuses through word of mouth – perhaps the best marketing tool available to universities looking to internationalize their student bodies.

Universities in the Midwest do not have that advantage. Metro areas in the country’s landlocked states are less familiar to international students, and top-ranking institutions aside, brand recognition is limited. Yet, schools in the Midwest are enjoying recruiting success too.

In Ohio, the University of Cincinnati [26] had another record-breaking year in international enrollments in 2011. Undergraduate international student enrollment was up 21.5 percent from 2010 at 673 students, while graduate numbers were up 10.8 percent to 1,710. Under targets set out under the Office of the President’s “UC2019: Accelerating Our Transformation” [27] initiative, the university has set a target of 8 percent enrollment from abroad and 18 percent from out of state.

At top-ranking Ohio State University [28], which hosts the seventh-largest international student population in the country, approximately 77 percent of the school’s 2,837 international undergraduate students in this academic year are from China, India or South Korea. And nearly 74 percent of the total 5,588 foreign-student populations are from those countries.R

To try to expand its reach, the university has created “global gateways.” The first office opened in the business district of Shanghai, China, in February 2010. The university is working to open a gateway in India this year and another in Brazil, most likely in 2013 or 2014. The university also wants to open sites in Turkey, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Recently released winter-quarter data show that international students saw the largest increase in enrollments at the main Columbus campus, with a 12.8 percent increase driving an overall out-of-state growth of 15.3 percent.

According to an article in the Dayton Daily News, local Ohio universities such as Wright State University [29], Miami University [30] and the University of Dayton [31] also registered large increases in international enrollments last year, with Chinese students accounting for 46 percent of their combined foreign-student populations (1,268).

In five years, Miami University has nearly tripled its international-student body to 970 in 2011 from 345 in fall 2006. A total of 681 undergraduate and graduate students from China enrolled at Miami in 2011, up 833 percent from 73 in 2006. At the University of Dayton, international enrollments were up to 1,009 in 2011 versus approximately 400 in 2009. Nearly half (446) of the students are from China, up 70 percent from fall 2010 and 266 percent from 2009.

According to college officials interviewed by the Daily News, a strong Web presence, international recruiters, and partnerships with colleges abroad are the driving forces behind their growth. Wright State in 2011 signed dual-degree agreements with four universities in China that allow Chinese students to seek graduate degrees from the school. Seventy of the schools 141 Chinese students are completing master’s programs in engineering and business under an agreement with Dalian Jiaotong University [32].

At Purdue University [33] in Indiana, the nation’s fourth leading international host institution, the growth story is pretty much the same as it is in Ohio. According to Mike Brzezinski, dean of international programs, it’s all about China.

“Purdue offers no international scholarships, so enrollments from abroad are all about the ability to pay. This is problematic for most countries, but China is a juggernaut due to the sheer size of its population and middle-class wherewithal.”

Purdue had a total of 7,934 international degree students in 2011, comprising 20 percent of the total student body (15 percent at the undergraduate level and 38 percent at the graduate level). This was up 15 percent from 2010 (6,761), and Chinese students accounted for 41 percent of the total (3,390), followed by India (1,305) and South Korea (882).

Looking ahead to fall 2012, Brzezinski is expecting another record year, based on another year of application increases in the current cycle (the 19th straight year of increases since the dean has been with the school).

Freshman applications are up 16 percent versus the same time last year to 7,700, which is in line with the double-digit growth the university has been seeing over the last five years. Most of the application growth has come from China, according to Brzezinski, who points out that Purdue does no recruiting in China whatsoever. Applications from India for fall 2012 continue to be “steady as she goes,” which mirrors nationwide enrollment trends over the last few years. Seeking to diversify its undergraduate body, the university spends its recruiting dollars in Central and South America, the Middle East, other Asian countries and from time to time in Canada and Turkey.

At the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, international enrollments [34] were up by almost 11 percent to a total of 8,009 in fall 2011. And the story remains the same in Illinois as it does in Purdue and as it does at the University of Southern California: China, China, China.

Enrollments from the Asian superpower were up by a massive 32 percent in 2011 to 3,081, while enrollments from next two biggest markets, South Korea and India, were essentially flat at 1,521 (down 2 percent) and 870 (up 2 percent) respectively.

Public universities in Illinois face a different state-funding dilemma than those in other states that have seen appropriations slashed over the last three or four years. Although the state has managed to largely stave off higher-education cuts, the delivery of promised funds has been erratic.

InsideHigherEd [35] reports, “throughout the 2009, 2010, and 2011 fiscal years, state payments to the universities were less than expected. The 2011 fiscal year, which started on June 30, 2010 and ended on July 1, 2011, was the worst for Illinois universities. That year, Eastern Illinois was appropriated $47.8 million. By June 30, 2011, the state still owed the university about $20 million. It would take until Dec. 6 for the state to pay out the full appropriation for the previous fiscal year.”

In the face of such fiscal unpredictability, which in January of this year led Moody’s Investor Service to put all of Illinois’s public universities on notice for a potential downgrade, it may be the case that the University of Illinois is building international enrollments as a buffer to unreliable state payments.

And given that international enrollment growth (785) at the Urbana-Champaign campus was considerably larger in 2011 than it was at Southern California University (282), it may just turn out that Illinois state-funding uncertainties help unseat SCU as the top host of international students, a position it has held since 2001 [36]. That year Urbana-Champaign was ranked seventh, with almost 1,700 fewer international students on campus than SCU.

The 2011-12 international enrollment numbers will be released by the Institute of International Education in November, and regardless of which institution hosts the most students, it seems likely that in these uncertain times of state funding cuts there will be a significant nationwide increase in lucrative international enrollments, with China again leading the way.