International enrollment dips; budget rebalanced

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SAMANTHA GRISWOLD
managing editor, news

Gannon University has recently been experiencing a decrease in international student enrollment, specifically from Saudi Arabia and India.
Bill Edmondson, vice president for enrollment, and Tom Hassett, associate vice president for global admissions and outreach, said that the dip in international enrollment can be attributed to a couple different things.
“What happens with international enrollment is just a section of what happens with enrollment overall,” Hassett said. “While international enrollment or a section of it might go up and down, that may or may not have any relationship to what happened in the U.S. or what we do as a university.”
Currently there are 674 degree-seeking international students attending Gannon, up from 257 students enrolled in the fall of 2012.
Edmondson said that the declining number of high school students in this portion of the country has contributed to lower enrollment numbers. Because of this, one of the things that the university has done to supplement the enrollment is look to recruiting international students.
“The international enrollment market has much more volatility in it than the domestic market,” Edmondson said.
“From time to time, things happen and [numbers] go up and down.”
Edmondson said that the lower-than-expected international enrollment for the fall semester was partly a result of increasingly strict regulations from the State Department for students from India to acquire visas to attend school in the United States.
In the past year, several fraudulent universities were issuing illegal student visas, causing the State Department to decrease the number of legal student visas issued to students coming from India.
Hassett said that a number of visa categories were affected, but that southern India bore most of the strain, which is where most of Gannon’s Indian students are from. He also noted that it wasn’t just Gannon that experienced enrollment losses — all schools with students from southern India felt the impact.
“We’ve seen this happen before and we know we will cycle out of it,” Edmondson said.
Hassett said that the same situation happened around 2011 and 2012 when Gannon saw a decline in Indian students, which eventually reversed itself. He also said once the State Department loosens up on its visa mandates, universities will see a return to previously-acquired Indian enrollment numbers.
Edmondson also said that the decrease in international enrollment can also be attributed to changes in Saudi Arabia’s scholarship program.
With the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2015, the scholarship program that was put into place to allow Saudi students to attend university in the U.S. began to see changes. Saudi students are being funded to go to the top 200 ranked universities by U.S. News and World Report.
Because the Indian student enrollment at Gannon was under projections by more than 100 students, the university had to adjust its budget.
Linda Wagner, vice president for finance and administration, said that since the fall enrollment was lower than expected, the university assumes it will carry over into the spring semester.
To balance the budget, Wagner said the department took the low fall enrollment into account and looked at all of the budget categories — graduate and undergraduate enrollment, health science programs, the Florida campus and online enrollment, along with international enrollment. They compared these assets to the budget and began to brainstorm ideas on how to balance it.
Wagner said the university asked the vice presidents of the colleges to ask their departments to identify areas in their various budgets that could be frozen.
“We hope [budget cuts] will affect students as little as possible and that’s why we looked selectively at things that we could reduce in the budget,” Wagner said.
“We didn’t reduce things that would directly impact the student experience — we tried to stay away from those things.”
One of the solutions that the department came up with was holding off on replacing computers throughout the university for a year, which will not negatively impact student experience, she said.
Wagner also said that another thing the university is doing to reduce spending is an energy savings initiative. The university has begun setting specific temperatures in each building and monitoring them so they are consistent.
The university has also began to be more aware of paper use and how they can reduce paper usage on items that can be received electronically.
“It’s actually just being more efficient and more green,” Wagner said. “Deeper things that we’re looking at on an ongoing basis are how we can be more environmentally friendly and ultimately save money in a way that isn’t negatively impacting the student experience.
“I think that’s probably the one good thing that’s come out of this situation.”
Though Hassett said international enrollment was affected mostly at the graduate level, Gannon had a very robust intake of undergraduate international students.
“The more diverse we are, the better we can handle changes in one particular part of the world,” Edmondson said.
Hassett said that things out of our control are what it means to work with the diversity that is apparent in a global community.
“As important as revenue is, we seek international diversity for the customs and the culture that they bring that help inform and affect our educational experience here,” Hassett said. “It’s just not revenue — it’s also mission driven.”
Edmondson agreed that above all, Gannon’s main concern is its students.
“Students will be working in a very diverse world when they leave here, so it is our responsibility to make sure that they are familiar with and can function in that type of world,” Edmondson said.

SAMANTHA GRISWOLD
[email protected]