Foreign students help support higher ed

A charming young man from South America, whom I met at a party, was a graduate student in engineering at UNM. He said he wanted to stay in New Mexico and start a business. He was exactly the kind of person New Mexico should welcome.

He told me foreign students are among the few who pay full tuition at our cash-strapped universities. Though some get help from scholarships, the full rate is the same as for other non-New Mexico residents: $22,000 a year. New Mexico resident students pay $7000 a year.

International students attending New Mexico colleges and universities contribute $91.2 million a year to our state’s economy, according to the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs. That includes their living expenses as well as tuition and fees.

Foreign students are serious business in many states. The universities love them, not just for the money but also for the cultural diversity they bring. People who understand their value, such as Danielle Gilliam of the UNM Global Education Office, think we should be marketing more intensely.

So consider the effect of the governor’s veto of the entire higher education budget at the end of the regular legislative session.

New Mexicans understand this veto was a gambit in a high-stakes game of chicken between the governor and the legislative leadership.

But if I were a college freshman in, say, Bangladesh, trying to decide where to continue my education in the United States, I wouldn’t understand that at all. I would say, holy blank-blank, better not go to New Mexico!

The veto came on the heels of the March version of the presidential travel ban that has made visitors from many countries, not just those named in the ban, feel unwelcome in the United States.

Though the ban is currently not in force, due to restraining orders from federal courts, a cautionary message to international students remains posted on the website of the Global Education Office of UNM. Issued in March after the second executive order, the message advises international students to be careful about traveling out of the US, because they might have a hard time getting back in.

UNM’s website reports it hosted 1339 international students in 2014, both graduate and undergraduate, up from 916 in 2010. These students, the report says, come from 97 countries. The top six countries are China, India, Brazil, Iran, and South Korea.

Iran is the only one of these countries named in the presidential travel ban. There were 67 students from Iran at UNM in 2014. The other countries specified in the ban are Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. At the time of the report, UNM had two students from Sudan and one each from Libya, Syria and Yemen.

These students spent roughly $15 million on tuition in that year. For 63 percent, most of their financial support came from sources other than UNM; 37 percent received more than half their funding from UNM.

A 2016 report from the Institute for International Education shows 1386 international students at NMSU in Las Cruces; 196 at New Mexico Tech in Socorro; and 118 each at Highlands and Western New Mexico universities. Highlands boasts students from 30 countries and a much lower tuition rate for nonresident and international students.

New Mexico is ranked 42 in number of international students. Colorado is ranked 25, with 10,800 students and a positive economic impact of almost $352 million. Gilliam points to Colorado as an example New Mexico should be following. Not this year, I fear.

The expected special legislative session has been called. Higher education funding probably will be restored. But the damage to New Mexico’s reputation is done. Let’s hope the governor does not use the special session to make it any worse.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2017

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