International student enrollment rates at the University of New Mexico have experienced an ebb and flow over the past several years.
According to the Global Education Office’s enrollment statistics, from 2012 to 2016 the amount of international students admitted to UNM increased from 1,060 students to 1,340 students. The percentage of increase in 2016 from previous years was only 0.64 percent, compared to 5.99 percent in 2015 and 19.85 percent in 2014.
“Over the past three to five years, we have seen an increase in international student enrollment,” said Pablo Torres, director of International Recruitment and Admissions.
According to the 2017 UNM Enrollment report, the percentage of international students at UNM has risen 80.9 percent since 2016, although the rate of change when comparing 2017 to the four years prior shows that enrollment has dropped by 9.26 percent.
“In the past year we saw a decrease in our number of applicants, but the actual number of new international students who accepted admissions offers held relatively on par with the previous year,” Torres said.
Nationally, international educators and international admissions offices are engaging in discussion about the potential factors that could be resulting in the drop of international student enrollment rates, he said.
Programs for hosting international students take into consideration what efforts will be effective in gaining greater enrollment, and GEO makes efforts to keep enrollment trends moving in a positive direction, Torres said.
“Our staff and our international student ambassadors reach out directly to international applicants throughout the year,” he said. “We also engage with recruitment partners abroad to share information about the opportunities available at UNM for international students.”
Competing against other English-speaking countries for international students may also be a factor in declining enrollment numbers.
“Other English-speaking countries, such as Canada, the U.K. and Australia, have increased their international recruitment outreach efforts and incentives,” Torres said. “For example, Canada has eased their work visa application requirements for international students who graduate from Canadian universities.”
Changes in political climate could be another factor in the fluctuating enrollment trends — in 2017, the GEO responded to anti-immigrant rhetoric by collaborating with the University’s Communications & Marketing department to create a video titled “#YouAreWelcomeHere.”
This was an opportunity for the GEO to reach out to prospective international students and offer a safe space for them to study and experience the culture, Torres said.
“We make a strong effort to connect personally with each international applicant,” Torres said. “Personal safety, as well as a connection between the host university and the student, are both important factors in what international students take into consideration when traveling internationally for school.”
Recently, the GEO has hired a new recruiter, who the office hopes will increase effectiveness of outreach approaches in the upcoming semesters — some of the new efforts include “targeted recruitment efforts and improvements in ongoing communication with prospective students,” Torres said.
The UNM Enrollment Management Department has introduced a Customer-Relationship Management System that will further help shape the approaches the GEO takes in reaching out to prospective international students. The GEO has faith that this system will positively affect international student enrollment rates, he said.
Overall, international students seem to have great experiences as UNM students, Torres said.
“In general, we do find that most international students are happy with their experiences at UNM and the quality of life in Albuquerque,” Torres said. “We often hear from them that people in New Mexico are friendly and they feel welcome here.”
Grace Chian-Huei Hsu is an international student from Taiwan currently studying at UNM. In Taiwan she studied music and accounting, but Hsu said her experience at UNM has helped guide her toward her dreams.
“(My) days at UNM (were) full of surprising memories,” she said. “Moreover, (an) American student’s life is different from Asians’ — we get (the) chance to deal with everything and live the life by ourselves.”
Hsu said she was drawn to UNM by her interest in Hispanic culture. She initially wanted to attend school abroad in Spain but decided to come to UNM because it is so close to Mexico.
Even though Hsu did not initially intend to come to UNM, she was able to find tranquility and learn more about herself. Hsu said her experience in New Mexico gave her a chance to understand American culture more than before.
“I learned about this place which (was) built by different kinds of people,” Hsu said. “The country, the history and the people gave me a brand new image of New Mexico.”
Rebecca Brusseau is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers the LGBTQ community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @r_brusseau.