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As Ohio State International Student Numbers Stabilize, Students From China Continue To Decrease

 Ohio State's Office of International Affairs
Michael Lee
/
WOSU
Ohio State's Office of International Affairs

At Ohio State University, international students make up almost 10% of the school’s population, hailing from continents like Asia, Europe and South America. And while the COVID-19 pandemic hit enrollment numbers hard in the first year, they’ve stabilized since. But one group of students continues to see declining numbers.

Ohio State international student Jacob Chang had low expectations when he came to the university as a freshman from Nanjing, Jiangsu, China. He thought he would keep his head low, get his degree and leave.

But throughout the years, Chang has made good friends, and has been more involved with the community. And now in his fourth year, he became the first-ever international student to lead the undergraduate student government.

However because of COVID-19, he said if he were a high school graduate today, he wouldn’t make that jump to the states.

“It’s really heartbreaking for me to see how freshmen are turning away from OSU, from this potential of the experiences and possibilities they can have here simply because of this pandemic," he said. "That's a shame, but I cannot blame them for that.”

The number of international students in the first year of the pandemic has fallen. According to Ohio State enrollment numbers, from fall 2019 to fall 2020, the university lost 15.1% of international students. This fall’s international student population — according to the school's 15th day enrollment numbers — is around the same.

But for international students from China, it’s been a different story. From fall 2019 to fall 2020, the number of Chinese international students dropped 16.8%, almost 1,000 students. This semester, that number continued to decrease, with Chinese student enrollment dropping 8.2%

For the university, it’s costly. Ohio State officials did not release specific figures, but here are the numbers. Just taking undergraduate international students for example, they pay on average $54,000 in tuition, room and board and health insurance. That’s excluding financial aid and scholarships. If you do the math with around 800 undergraduate Chinese international students lost since 2019, the university has lost up to $44 million.

Fernando Unzueta, the associate vice provost for global strategies and international affairs at Ohio State, said there are a few possible reasons for the drop in international students as a whole, and those from China.

“They couldn’t get visas, there were travel restrictions whether from the U.S. or from their home countries, and there was a general climate of uncertainty and lack of security in the context of the pandemic,” he said.

Unzueta added that other countries, like Canada or those in Europe, have become more appealing to international students.

But USG president Chang pointed to some other reasons why students might not be coming — policies and public safety.

Chang is in online group chats with parents and students from China. He said many worry about coming to school in the states or sending their kids here because of the country’s response to COVID, a fear of not being able to return home and the fear of anti-Asian hate.

“I have two friends on campus from China that were egged by people next to the ice rink. They were just walking on the street," Chang said. "And there are students reporting being grabbed on High Street, being called ‘corona,’ or like being microaggressed in a group project.”

Chang added he’s also known those who have tried to graduate early or just drop out midway through their degrees due to the pandemic. And he said this is despite them understanding that attending Ohio State is more than just getting a degree.

“It’s a holistic experience helping you grow as a person, as a Buckeye. And they are choosing to ignore and give up all of that because they do not feel safe here on campus,” he said.

Associate vice provost Unzueta said Ohio State will continue to work with their global gateway office in China to recruit students to instill their trust in the university. But he mentioned the increase in other international students is not bad either.

“We don’t want to see drops of international students from any particular country but we also think that having a more diverse pool of students from different countries is beneficial," he said.

But for Chang, he just hopes that the university can work with local groups, governments and agencies to come up with a plan on how to protect international students — and provide a more welcoming environment for them.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.