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Green River And Seattle Colleges Say Visas For International Students Are More Unpredictable

Ashley Gross
A billboard with information for international students at Seattle Central College. International students make up 12 percent of the student population at Seattle Central.

The number of visas issued to international students who want to study in the United States has dropped for two straight years. That’s hurt colleges that have helped mitigate declines in domestic student enrollment by recruiting abroad, including some community colleges in the Puget Sound region.

Green River College in Auburn, for example, has become one of the top community colleges for international students in the country. According to the Institute of International Education, Green River ranks eighth in the country among community colleges for the number of international students it enrolls.

In one YouTube recruitment video marketing the college to foreign students, Green River highlights its proximity to Seattle and the chance to learn from students from all over the world.

“I am super amazed about the diversity here on campus,” said Carina Shi, a student from China who was included in the video. “I think they’re from more than 60 countries, so I really feel like I learn a lot not only on campus, inside the class, but also outside the classroom.”

Tuition for international students is more than double what it is for Washington residents, so when international enrollment drops, it’s a big deal financially for the institutions.

International enrollment has decreased at Green River for the past two years, from 2,291 in 2015-16 to 1,987 in 2017-18, according to the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

Wendy Stewart, vice president of international programs and extended learning at Green River, said there are a lot of reasons why there’s been a decline, including increasing competition from higher education institutions in other countries. But she said another reason is that fewer visas are being approved for students from China and Vietnam, two major countries that Green River draws from.

“So when students don’t have their visa approved, they don’t reapply typically anymore. They used to,” Stewart said. “Now they turn to other countries – Canada, Australia – which have more predictable visa processes.”

The three campuses of Seattle Colleges have also experienced a decline.

Right now is crunch time for the colleges to figure out how many students will attend in the coming school year. Students in other countries have been admitted but are now waiting to see if they’ll get their visas to study here in the fall.

“In some cases they’ve been denied and they’re trying to prepare for a new interview, so we’re trying to assist them by describing a little bit more in detail to the consulate that will be reviewing their application exactly what kind of program they’re applying to and why we feel they’re a suitable candidate,” said Andrea Insley, associate vice chancellor over global initiatives at Seattle Colleges.

The number of international students at community colleges statewide peaked in 2014-2015. It’s fallen 15 percent since then.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.