By Amanda Richey, Editor-in-Chief
A sharp decrease in international student enrollment in the class of 2020 from previous years is contrary to university goals to grow and support diversity.
Just ten freshmen hold foreign student visas and are seeking degrees. There are also six transfer or exchange students and five Language House Assistants. In previous years the number of full-time degree seeking international freshmen was in the thirties.
The decrease has not gone unnoticed across campus. In the first month that classes have been back in session administrators met with faculty and students in forum style meetings three times. The class of 2020 international population is only about one third of recent class averages. Administrators say the low enrollment in the freshmen class is out of sync with goals to grow the international student population. Students and faculty that attended the meetings say that the low number of international students also affects every individual on campus as Furman strives to deliver on diversity.
According to Mike Hendricks, the vice president of enrollment management, Furman’s international recruitment for the class of 2020 fell short because of communication issues and a short recruiting staff.
The total number of international applications and admittances were similar in scale to previous years. Furman received approximately 100 applications from international students for the class of 2020 and the university admitted slightly less students than previous years.
“Where we fell short this year was in yield,” Hendricks said. “What that came from, probably on our part [and] Admissions part, we didn’t really communicate well with the prospective students and that’s what got us in the bind…We were hoping for 30. We brought in about 11.”
During the last two years the office for enrollment management, as well as the Rinker Center for Study Away and International Education have undergone transitions with staff members. The previous international recruiter stepped down last year and the Dean of International Education position was also vacant. Hendricks credits the understaffing to the low number of admitted international students who joined the class of 2020.
“We kind of missed that whole conversion piece. We didn’t do it well. And particularly with internationals you really have to help them through the process, you have to work them through the process, there needs to be a lot of communication,” Hendricks said.
Furman hired a Dean of International Admissions at the beginning of this school year to address the international recruitment for future classes.
Candice Chan and other international student admissions staff will travel to China, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan this fall. Chan’s plans also include visiting different embassies in order to recruit a more diverse group of students.
“For us, being where we are and who we are, we need that one-on-one facetime with a kid,” Hendricks said.
Another communication issue concerned scholarship availability for international students.
“So there were full ride scholarships that were available to international students and they had specific names. We got away from specific names for them, because again we didn’t want to isolate just internationals. So they’re available for the same stuff that domestic students are…[the scholarships] are just renamed,” Hendricks said.
Any incoming student is eligible for a Duke, Lay, or Belltower scholarship, regardless of nationality, according to Hendricks. This however, was not well communicated.
“What we didn’t do last year because we didn’t have enough people in the field and then we didn’t translate it well enough, you know over our website or in our communications, ‘you’re available for everything.’ And that’s what we’ve got to do better this year, and we will,” Hendricks said.
Faculty met with Hendricks, the interim Dean of Faculty Ken Peterson and the Provost George Shields in closed sessions both Wed. Sept. 7 and Tues. Sept. 13 to discuss enrollment for future classes and improving the Furman student experience.
Faculty have been highly attentive to diversity on campus throughout the summer as well; the faculty retreat focused entirely on improving diversity both in terms of increasing numbers of international students and domestic students of color and on integrating diverse groups better once students arrive at Furman.
Chair of the Faculty and professor of political science Kate Kaup is concerned about international enrollment in the class of 2020 for multiple reasons.
“I’m concerned both in terms of process and outcome,” Kaup said. “The faculty did not know about this until late April or May. I think we should have known about it earlier because we have an opinion that we would have wanted to convey to the administration.”
Kaup further noted that international students augment a well-rounded learning environment, and that such an asset should come with financial support from the university.
“I think our discussions are enriched when we have multiple viewpoints. I also think that we’re going to need to support our international students financially,” Kaup said.
Kaup hopes that the administration and faculty can work more efficiently together on issues of student enrollment and academics.
“In terms of allocation of our resources, that is a decision that the vice president of enrollment makes. It’s not a decision the faculty makes. However we are in charge of delivering the best and most vibrant education that we can,” Kaup said. “That’s what we’re in charge of and a lot of that depends on the type of student we have in the classroom.”
A third meeting concerning the international freshmen population occurred between international students and administrators Wed., Sept. 7.
Approximately 50 international students met with Hendricks, Peterson, Chan as well as administrators from international education and student life. The meeting was organized by the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Life.
Overall, Daniel Zhang, a senior political science major from Shanghai, China hoped to hear about concrete changes to current policy in the Sept. 7 town hall meeting.
“I’m not saying we should see anything substantial right now, but we know that we only have 10 students this year. How many are we recruiting next year?” Zhang said. “One of the dilemmas is if you don’t have international students it’s even harder to recruit international students, right? I think that’s the problem they need to solve starting from this point.”
Furman University International Student Association (FUISA) President Jai-Ryung Lee expressed her concern via email:
“This sudden and drastic decrease in the number of international students matriculated should signal to the university and the administration that the university’s efforts towards diversity have been lacking,” Lee said. “I as an international student hope that the administrators continue a dialogue with the international students to make sure diversity and inclusion is still a top priority of the university.”
Both Lee and Zhang are pleased that there was a meeting between administrators and international students and hope the dialogue continues.
“One positive about the meeting: they admit it was a mistake, which I really appreciate. The VP said he messed up. I appreciate him saying that because at least we know that they think it’s an issue now. Because before that we were under the impression that they don’t care,” Zhang said.
An official international student recruiting plan has not been released by the Office of Enrollment, though Hendricks and Chan expect about 30 international students to join Furman in the next freshman class due to increased “face time” with prospective students.
According to Hendricks, international recruitment efforts also have to work with efforts to support diversity and inclusion once students arrive at Furman.
“The one thing about the discount rate and enrollment management—we’re one piece of the whole university plan. So academic affairs, student life and enrollment management work together. Dr. Peterson calls it a stool with three legs, if you build one piece first then the whole thing falls over. I’ll take the lead from where the school wants to go — we want to be more diverse,” Hendricks said.