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Visa probe may have cost Wright State millions in international student tuition

A decline in international students attending Wright State University has cost the school millions of dollars over the last two years and the loss may have been partially self-inflicted.

Wright State’s international enrollment has decreased by 779 students since 2015, the same year that an investigation into possible immigration related wrongdoing was revealed. Since then, multiple investigations have been launched into the school’s possible misuse of H-1B visas, which allow U.S. employers to hire foreign workers in specialized occupations.

» RELATED: WSU faculty union creates strike plan to use if deal isn’t reached

The school estimates it has lost around $15 million in net tuition revenue from the lower international student enrollment in the last two years. International students pay out-of-state tuition prices and they typically pay full price because they are not eligible for federal aid. This news organization reported last year that international students have a more than $1.1 billion impact in Ohio alone.

In June, Wright State trustees approved more than $30.8 million in budget cuts to correct years of overspending at the university that began in 2012. It now appears that if international enrollment had remained steady, the recent budget cuts could have been smaller.

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The visas Wright State is under investigation for are not the same as student visas and were handled by a completely different office at the university. But, the investigation may be one of several reasons for the decline in foreign students at Wright State, said Bill Holmes, new WSU vice president of international affairs.

“They are kind of timed together if you look at a graph,” Holmes said. “Of course it’s a concern because it does bring scrutiny to the university that the international office gets pulled into.”

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Wright State’s H-1B visa investigation involved IT firm Web Yoga, which is based in Washington Twp. and had an office in Hyderabad, India, a 2015 I-Team investigation found. The country has historically been the largest source of international students for Wright State.

News of the investigation would have traveled fast back to India and likely other countries students come from, said Hal Salzman, a professor of public policy and visa expert at Rutgers University.

“Networks form for all sorts of reasons so if something happens it could very quickly disrupt that network,” Salzman said. “That’s the general principle.”

Past problems with visas could scare some students off, Salzman said. For that reason, it’s “imperative that universities and all players at the university really understand the significance of visa regulations,” said Miami University assistant vice president for enrollment Susan Schaurer.

Wright State officials have long said that the bulk of the university’s decline in students was caused by changes to a government scholarship program in Saudi Arabia.

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Though Wright State’s number of Saudi Arabian students has dropped by 256 since 2015, the school has seen a larger decline from India.

Wright State had nearly 400 fewer students from India enrolled this fall than in the fall of 2015, according to the school. The decline at WSU goes against an international trend that shows the number of students from India studying abroad increased by more than 12 percent, according to a new report from the Institute of International Education.

Recruiting international students is competitive and experts say it has gotten even more so over the last few years as countries like Australia and Canada have stepped up.

The competition has led to a mix of results for international enrollments at area colleges, though none have incurred quite the decline that Wright State has over the last two years. Miami University this fall enrolled 311 foreign freshmen this year, a record class for the school, Schaurer said.

UD has lost 554 international students since 2015, according to the school. Earlier this year the university started partnering with a Boston-based company called Shorelight Education in order to create a clearer pathway for foreign students to attend UD.

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Hiring Holmes is Wright State’s solution to its slumped enrollments. The new WSU vice president said he has a lot of experience in establishing pathways for international students from China and Japan.

Holmes said he’ll aim to create more partnerships with institutions in other countries, such as the ones Wright State recently announced with Anglia Ruskin University in England or the state of Andhra Pradesh in India.

“We just have some new things to bring to the table that really haven’t been pursued in the past,” Holmes said of WSU. “We need to be more aggressive and we need to go out and market ourselves in new areas.”

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