US schools feel the pinch

February 20, 1998

Student recruitment efforts worldwide are suffering from crises in the Middle East and Asia

Jae Lee is studying international relations at Boston University. But the 20-year-old South Korean student has also just had a hard lesson in international economics.

He is preparing to leave BU and return home, hit by the devaluation of the won, which has halved the value of the money his family sends for tuition and expenses.

Universities and colleges in the United States - including BU, which has the most international students in the US - do not know or will not say how many Asian students have left or plan to leave because of the financial crisis. But the universities and some surrounding businesses expect to suffer from the departure of the generally affluent Thais, Indonesians and Koreans, almost all of whom paid full tuition with no need for scarce financial aid.

"This is going to hurt a lot of students, and it is going to hurt schools that want to have students from other countries - not only because of the income, but also to provide an array of cultural backgrounds," said Gary Althen, president of the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.

The 457,984 international students enrolled at US institutions pump an estimated $7 billion a year into the country's economy, according to the New York-based Institute for International Education.

Nearly two-thirds of international students are from Asia. Nearly 40,000 South Koreans alone study in the US, while Hong Kong, China, Indonesia and Japan together send 112,198 students.

"A large number of Korean students and a few Japanese students have shown up for assistance," said Jimmie White, an attorney who counsels foreign students at the University of California in Los Angeles, where two-thirds of the 2,000 international students are from Asia. "Everybody's a little frightened about the future. Our financial assistance is merely a short-term loan."

Johns Hopkins and Ohio universities are allowing foreign students to postpone tuition payments. Other schools are providing short-term loans or work-study jobs.

"The higher education community in the US is beginning to come to grips with this issue and find creative ways to at least help those students who are here," said Richard Krasno, president of the Institute of International Education. "Their revenues will suffer, there is no question about it."

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