Foreign students at California community colleges: Benefits, costs, and institutional responsibility
Fitzer, John K.
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This study examined the motivations for and ramifications of enrolling foreign students at California community colleges. Two types of colleges were examined in this study: institutions that pursue these students aggressively, and institutions that do not. Interviews were conducted with ten administers from three different high-pursuit institutions and eleven administrators from two low-pursuit colleges. These administrators included chancellors, vice-chancellors, presidents, chief financial officers, deans/vice presidents of student services, deans/vice presidents of instruction, and others involved in international education. Of interest was why high-pursuit institutions pursued these students and lowpursuit institutions did not. Also of interest was whether or not administrators felt that significant and tangible benefits came to the institutions from enrolling foreign students and what evidence they had of these benefits. Administrators were also questioned on the direct, indirect, and opportunity costs of enrolling these students. Of particular interest was the issue of whether or not these students displaced or had the potential to displace domestic students in the California community college system---a system which is very low cost and in high demand. Finally, this study looked at how administrators felt that the the enrollment of foreign students fit into the mission of a community college---a mission that has traditionally focused on serving the immediate surrounding community of the college. All administrators from high-pursuit institutions felt that there were tangible benefits that come from enrolling foreign students and all were able to offer specific evidence of these benefits. These include academic benefits, cultural benefits, and financial benefits. On the other hand, administrators at low-pursuit institutions were divided on benefits derived from the enrollment of foreign students. Some administrators at institutions with low foreign student enrollments offered what they perceived to be benefits from these enrollments, but none offered concrete evidence of the realization of these benefits. Furthermore, some low-pursuit administrators stated that no benefits were derived from the enrollment of these students and felt that the college should not put priority on the enrollment of foreign students because the costs associated with these students were too high. This study also found that at the colleges included in this study, there had been no significant displacement of domestic students by foreign students on aggregate. Both colleges with large enrollments of foreign students had been able to keep ahead of demand for classes by passing bonds for the expansion of their physical capacity over the years. Similarly, the two low-pursuit colleges had excess physical capacity, and the number of foreign students at these institutions was so small that their enrollment had little effect on overall enrollment. However, it certainly could be the case that individual students were not able to take a certain class at the particular time during the particular semester that they wanted at colleges because spaces had been filled by foreign students. Also, administrators from both institutional types indicated that displacement could occur in other districts that had no excess physical capacity. Administrators reported that there were other opportunity costs for the enrollment of foreign students. At colleges with high foreign student enrollment, these costs include curricular changes to ESL programs and on-campus job options for domestic students. However, all high-pursuit administrators viewed these costs as insignificant when looking at the cultural, academic, and financial benefits that come from significant foreign student enrollment. Another ramification of enrolling significant numbers of foreign students is that a college's mission priority may shift from vocational and remedial education to educating degree-seeking transfer students. Administrators from low-pursuit colleges also reported significant opportunity costs including funds that could be spent on providing more services to domestic students being spent on providing services to foreign students. Many low-pursuit administrators felt that these costs were not worth it because they felt that the low numbers of foreign students at these colleges did not bring significant benefits. Several felt that it actually detracted the college from what they felt was its primary mission: vocational and basic skills instruction. It seems that only colleges that enroll significant numbers of foreign students receive substantial financial benefits and tangible cultural and academic benefits. Moreover, only institutions that have as their priority mission to educate degree-seeking transfer students should make the transition to high-pursuit colleges. Finally, only colleges with specific community characteristics and conditions can make the transition to high-pursuit and high enrollment colleges.