With a 5 to 9 percent drop in enrollment this year, Whatcom Community College faces another hit to an already strained budget. One way the college has found to keep students and tuition flowing is to expand the number of international students enrolled at Whatcom, said Ulli Schraml, the Study Abroad/activities coordinator.
“We have the highest number ever, over 200 international students at Whatcom,” Schraml said.
International students provide a large source of revenue, Schraml said, since they pay out-of-state tuition.
There are advantages to having a large international presence on campus besides the increase in revenue, Schraml said.
“It’s nice to have a wide variety of people on campus,” said Schraml. Hosting international students “gives us views of areas of the world we are not familiar with.”
This sentiment is echoed by the United States State Department as it provides scholarships for students from certain developing countries to attend American community colleges, like Evashini Munsami, a 19-year-old Whatcom student from South Africa.
“The point of it is to enrich communities here,” said Munsami.
Schraml said that a large part of the international program expansion is focused on China because of changes in the State Department’s visa restrictions for this country. Before the changes students from China were generally only granted visas to attend four-year universities, Schraml said, but now it is common for Chinese students to attend an American community college.
“It’s a huge market,” said Schraml.
The same changes in visa requirements also apply to students from Vietnam and Indonesia, Schraml said. Whatcom has increased recruiting efforts in Indonesia in particular because of the large number of students seeking to attend American colleges, he added.
U.S. immigration law requires that citizens of foreign countries must be enrolled in at least 18 credits of English as a second language courses or 12 credits of academic classes to be granted a student visa. This means that ESL students pay at least $2,400 per quarter and students in academic courses pay at least $3,138 each quarter.
Coming to Whatcom to study has been a valuable experience, but the price can be difficult to handle, said Jeffrey Wong, a 20-year-old student from Hong Kong, since “tuition keeps increasing all the time.” To help cover tuition and expenses, Wong took a maintenance position on campus. It feels good to make some of his own money, Wong said. “When you take money from your parents the feeling is hard.”
Many international students appreciate the diversity of nationalities represented at Whatcom, like 20-year-old Pravis Briton, a student from Hong Kong starting his sixth quarter at Whatcom.
“Everyone is so different,” Briton said. “It is a really good experience.”