The number of international students enrolled at SRU has gone down by 39 percent since 2015, making SRU a less diverse campus, according to the 2018 SRU Academic Assessment.
According to SRU’s International Student Report, the cost of tuition for international students is about $28,000, they make up 1.1% of the university’s total population.
There were 100 international students enrolled at SRU in fall 2017. During the fall of 2018, there were 91 students enrolled and this semester, the spring 2019 semester, the number is down to 72 international students.
“There have been some political issues in recent years,” said Dr. Sam Heikinen, associate provost for the Office of Global Engagement.
Heikinen said that political issues happen all over the world, and in the United States as well. He said the last time there was a downward spike in international students was in 2001, following the September 11th terrorist attacks, but that the numbers rose again in the following years.
“The world accepted our security in 2001 and were extremely respectful because they knew we were doing it for good reasons, and that time they came back,” Heikinen said.
He said following the 2016 election, the numbers decreased and never really made a comeback.
“Around the election time of our current President is when we started to notice a downturn,” Heikinen said.
Isuri Rajapaksa, a 23-year-old graduate computer science major from Sri Lanka, said even though her country is the most popular international country on SRU’s campus, many of her friends felt unwelcome here, because of the political situation.
“I have been involved in Internations Club for three years,” Rajapaksa said. “It is sad to see such a downfall in the international students, because it has always been my goal to combine international students with domestic students, but I know that the political situation makes it hard for international students to attend universities and for us to be successful after college.”
Rajapaksa graduated SRU in 2018, with a degree in Integrated Marketing Communication, but returned to school because she could not find a company that would sponsor her in order to stay in the country.
“I wanted to work for a few years in America following graduation so that I could bring my skills back to my homeland,” Rajapaksa said, “but it is hard to find a job when you are not a United States citizen, and that is something that the country needs to work on and also a reason that the USA and more importantly, SRU may not be appealing to foreigners.”
Rajapaksa said she lied on her job applications in order to get an interview with any USA company, and that companies turned her down as soon as she said she would need to be sponsored.
Yannick Strauss, a 25-year-old, 2017 SRU management graduate from Germany, said even though he loved his time at SRU, the process after graduation was unappealing to him.
“I think some students transfer from Slippery Rock because they want to go to a country that allows them to have a job after they graduate,” Strauss said. “Canada is one of those countries because they use a point system to hire international people, rather than a lottery system for sponsorship like America does.”
Strauss said he went back to Germany for a year following graduation, and now attends graduate school at the University of South Florida.
“I love America and I love Western Pennsylvania, so I hope that in the future things work out for me so I can stay here and work for the rest of my life,” Strauss said.
Frank Emmanuel Acha, a 22-year-old junior computer programming major from West Africa, said he thinks the reason for the decrease in internationals is the lack of transportation. He said he has been an SRU student since January 2017, but has seen many students transfer schools during his time here.
“SRU is filled with many great people and the office of global engagement does a great job, but they forget to tell you how hard it is to travel,” Acha said.
Acha said when students study abroad in a new country, they want to travel often to experience new places. He said the brochures say that the airport is 45 minutes away, but it does not mention that there is not a way to get there easily.
“In many countries there are public transportation systems like trains and busses, so we all assume that the 45-minute commute to the airport is simple, but none of us have cars and Ubers are very expensive,” Acha said. “It is hard having to get a private ride to the airport because you literally have to beg someone to take you.”
Strauss, the former student from Germany, agreed, saying Slippery Rock is in the middle of nowhere, and that students want to experience other places in the country during their time here.
“It is nice that the office of global engagements coordinates trips to places like New York, Boston, and Chicago, but we all still liked to travel independently,” Strauss said.
Heikinen, the associate provost for the office of global engagements, said the international students are picked up and taken to the airport at the beginning and end of their study abroad semesters.
“We take a lot of time to make their first day here go as smoothly as possible so that they are comfortable,” Heikinen said. “I do understand that students struggle to travel throughout the year, so we are trying to fix that.”
He said there is a bus that takes the international students to and from Pittsburgh on the weekends.
“The students’ satisfaction means everything to me, and that is why I love that we have a bus that we pile everyone on and take trips to Pittsburgh,” Heikinen said.
Heikinen said the office is doing whatever they can to accommodate the wants and needs of the students.
Strauss, the student from Germany, said that aside from the traveling difficulties, SRU may have a decrease in numbers because of the name of the school itself.
“When I was in Germany researching schools to attend, I thought maybe Slippery Rock was a made-up place because of how goofy the name sounds,” Strauss said.
Acha, the student from West Africa, said Slippery Rock sounds cool but it is not a place that people in other countries learn about in their history classes.
“Looking at Slippery Rock on the map is not appealing because it is nothing compared to big cities like Boston or New York City,” Acha said.
Heikinen said even though the number of international students has decreased in the recent years, SRU still has 35 countries representing it. He said he has plans to bring the numbers back up. He said the United States in general is in competition with Canada, because Canada is putting a lot of money into investing in international students.
“The fifth largest export in the United States is international students, and countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia want them, so we need to step up our game,” Heikinen said.
He said he is planning nine new partnerships in China for exchange programs, so that students can come to SRU and pay an out-of-state tuition, which is about $13,000. He said this process will take three to five years to complete.
“We go to the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, Canada, and Asia to recruit students to come to Slippery Rock,” Heikinen said.
He said it takes time to brand yourself, and that SRU has made its name known in other countries by making brochures and websites available in other languages and platforms. He said once students make it to SRU, the office accommodates them.
“We have a strong international orientation for the students and we further help our students with immigration advising and cultural programming,” Heikinen said.
Acha, the student from West Africa, said he had a great start to his SRU career.
“I was forced to live on campus my first semester, but it really helped me make friends with both international and American students,” Acha said.
Strauss, the former student from Germany, said the office of global engagement helped him at the beginning, and when comparing it to his graduate school in Tampa said the people here care about everyone on a personal level.
“When I walked into the office at SRU, everyone knew me by name and they knew my case,” Strauss said. “Now that I am at the University of South Florida, I do not even know where the office of global engagement is, and they did not have an international orientation or anything like Slippery Rock did.”
Strauss said he also really liked the global ambassador program that SRU offered.
“I always checked in with my global ambassador, and by my second year at Slippery Rock I became a global ambassador so that I could help guide the international students,” he said.
Noora Alie, the assistant director for International Student Services said the global ambassador program worked, but that her office plans to change the process in the upcoming year.
“Global ambassadors were great, but we are going to do away with that program now,” Alie said. “We could not guarantee that all international students were meeting with their assigned ambassadors, so we have decided to implement a more intense program during orientation instead.”
She said this new program will serve as a way for internationals to connect with more American students, and that the international students will no longer have to rely on just one student as their mentor.
Heikinen, the provost for the office of global engagement, said with all of these new plans put into place, he hopes to see the number of international students increase once again.
“Our partnerships in China and our recruitment in other countries will sure enough bring in more students,” he said. “It takes a few years for all of these tasks to actually work, because branding yourself is not easy, but I know that we are selling Pennsylvania and we are selling ourselves.”
Strauss, the student from Germany, said he loves the location of Slippery Rock because it is such a culture that is different from the culture of the city.
“I hope that SRU does increase the numbers to be what they were when I started at SRU in 2016, because I will honestly say that Slippery Rock University changed my life and shaped me into who I am today,” Strauss said. “I want as many international students to experience that as possible.”