South Carolina colleges have increasingly been turning to international students to help bolster diversity and budgets alike.
Since 2010, the number of international students at S.C. colleges has increased from 3,090 to 3,937, an increase of 30 percent, all while enrollment overall has decreased slightly, according to data The State obtained from public four-year schools and the S.C. Commission on Higher Education. Lander University did not provide figures.
“Enrollment is pretty flat,” said Mike LeFever, former interim president of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, during a March interview. “Schools are looking for international students...They’re looking more to recruit non-traditional students who may be 25 or have a semester or two of college.”
But nowhere has this trend been as pronounced as at the University of South Carolina, where between 2010 and 2018, the number of international students increased from 1,256 to 1,891 — an increase of 51 percent, data show.
Most of those students are coming from China. At USC, 37 percent of the university’s international students are from China, data show. The country with the second-highest percentage of USC’s international students is India at 7 percent, data show.
“China sends more students abroad than any other country in the world,” said Allen Miller, who oversees international student recruitment for USC. “India has almost as large a population, but doesn’t have enough of a middle class that can afford to pay out-of-state tuition.”
International students, who pay out-of-state tuition, can also be a boon for a school’s budget.
That’s because many international students pay out-of-state tuition. At USC that’s $33,928 per year, while in-state tuition is $12,688, according to USC’s website.
As a part of USC’s Thinking Globally Program, international students speak to freshman classes and local high schools about their home countries, Miller said.
“For many of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve met someone who is not from their home country,” Miller said.
In 2011, USC laid out a strategic plan calling for an increase in international students, but did not set a hard number or percentage. Though, USC probably won’t have more than 5 percent of its student body as international students, Miller said.
Other schools, such as Coastal Carolina University, have also set goals to increase the number of international students on campus.
“(International) students help us to more fully consider the issues that we will face as a community, as a citizenry, and as humanity,” Darla Domke-Damonte, the associate provost for Global Initiatives at Coastal Carolina University, said in a statement.
Since 2008, the international student population at Coastal Carolina has increased from 61 students to 153, according to data provided by Coastal Carolina.
The school has set a goal of having 3 percent of its population — or 320 students — as international students, Domke-Damonte said. Coastal Carolina is only halfway there.
To support those students, Coastal Carolina has boosted its intensive English program and held events to bring together international and domestic students, Domke-Damonte said.
Recruiting students who pay the out-of-state tuition rates has been an especially attractive option to S.C. colleges and universities since state lawmakers gutted higher education funding after the Great Recession.
However, the influx of out-of-state students comes with controversy. For one, lawmakers have raised concerns that out-of-state students are pushing out in-state students for degrees. Two, because out-of-state tuition is so expensive, only wealthy — in many cases, white — families can afford it.
“We want them to recruit, but we don’t want (out-of-state students) to be a vehicle to supplement their budget,” Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, told The State. “That’s why we gave them additional money this year.”
With international students there is all the revenue without the controversy.
Scott thinks recruiting international students is “a different ballgame,” he said. For one, it’s important to have an “international exchange of information.”
Plus, the number of international students, 3,937, pales in comparison to the number of out-of-state students, 29,790, in 2017, according to data from colleges and the higher education commission.
“When you look at the percentage of international students, it doesn’t come close to (the percentage) out-of-state students,” Scott said.