International Enrollment Drops

Pandemic-related challenges keep some students home.

Row of flags representing different countries around the world

Political rhetoric combined with the pandemic to create something “unprecedented in the field of international education.”

UW–Madison has seen a decrease in international student enrollment, with 5,231 starting this fall semester compared to 6,200 last fall.

Katie Dunagan, the university’s assistant director of international admissions and recruitment, says that “wasn’t a surprise, given all of the restrictions and challenges that these students were facing.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some were unable to travel to the United States because of limited flights and increased prices, and others couldn’t get visas when most embassies abroad closed. While some opted to take online courses, others were not able to do so and decided to defer enrollment until spring semester.

“There is a lot of political rhetoric out there that sort of coincided with this wave of the pandemic,” Dunagan says, “and those two things together created something definitely unprecedented in the field of international education.”

UW–Madison’s Office of International Student Services is responding with a variety of supportive measures, including virtual events and activities, advising appointments, informational town halls, newsletters, web updates, virtual orientation, and social media outreach.

Lora Klenke ’94, managing director for international alumni relations for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, says it’s key for the university to remind international students that they are valued. “International students increase the social and cultural diversity of our campus,” she says. “They enrich the research and learning environment and help U.S. students develop relevant skills in how to work and communicate in a global workforce.”

Published in the Winter 2020 issue


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