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Joe Guzzardi U.S. colleges should serve citizens first

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Joe Guzzardi

Posted: Saturday, December 10, 2011 12:00 am

The Institute of International Education issued its annual "Open Doors" report two weeks ago, which showed a 5.7 percent increase in foreign-born students enrolled in American colleges. Some interpret this as good news. I'm not one of them.

For university administrators, international students are a bonanza. Out-of-state students pay full freight tuition — often as much as three times what an in-state resident pays. At the University of Washington, for example, residents pay $10,575 in annual tuition and fees while non-residents pay $28,059.

Foreign enrollment has been on the rise since the academic year 2006-2007 and has increased 32 percent over the past decade. That's plenty of extra cash flowing into the university tills.

The State Department loves having foreign students on American campuses. Assistant Secretary of State Ann Stock says that young people who study abroad "gain the the global skills necessary to create solutions to 21st-century challenges." The State Department underscored that it gives student visa applications "special priority."

Another supporter is the Commerce Department, which estimates that international students contribute more than $21 billion to the U.S. economy through tuition and living expenses, including room and board, supplies, transportation, health insurance and support for dependents.

Maybe the foreign students "gain global skills," and maybe they spend billions once they reach the United States. But what about the American kids they displace? They'd learn 21st-century skills and spend money, too. There are only a fixed number of incoming freshman seats. Once one is assigned, it's gone.

Broader questions about the policy soundness of enrolling hundreds of thousands of foreign students needs to be addressed. Are American universities prepared to absorb a tripling of undergraduate Chinese, the figure reported by the New York Times? What percent of the universities' resources will have to be spent on English language learning and other assimilation tools?

Peggy Blumenthal, spokesman for the IIE, says that one reason for the dramatic increase in Chinese enrollment is that there are too few universities in China. Blumenthal argues that it's logical for students to come to the United States. But a university shortage in China is China's problem and one that shouldn't be resolved by denying a U.S. citizen a slot in this year's freshman class.

Here's the unreported outrage. For the most part, international students enroll in state-sponsored schools funded by American taxpayers. Over dozens of decades, their tax dollars generated by their hard work have built these universities for the express benefit of their children. For UCLA to spend $5 million to modernize its cafeteria to accommodate its 40-percent Asian enrollment, as it did this year, is probably not how most Californians want their tax money utilized.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, foreign enrollment is at an all-time high. But, for heaven's sake, Urbana-Champaign is a Morrill-Land Grant Act college founded after the Civil War to help Illinoisans, not to educate the world.

Continuous waves of foreign-born students have serious, negative long-term implications for the United States. While many students will return, others will change their immigration status to become permanent residents and compete with Americans for jobs. At the same time, their presence adds to already overcrowded country straining to provide for those who are already here.

While most Americans acknowledge the advantages of a diverse student mix, at issue are state policies that purposely make it more difficult for local students to earn their college degrees, a benefit residents have paid for with their tax dollars.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008 and now lives in Pittsburgh. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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