New scrutiny not a deterrent to international students

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Bishop LeBlond High School/St. Joseph, Mo.
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William Aitch and Yue Jiang enjoy dinner at MU's dining facility, Plaza 900, on Tuesday July, 12.
Photo by Michelle Kanaar/MUJW staff

William Aitch and Yue Jiang enjoy dinner at MU's dining facility, Plaza 900, on Tuesday July, 12.

COLUMBIA — Before Sept. 11, 2001, David Currey thought his job centered on helping international students. In the decade since, his duties increasingly focus on monitoring them.

“It’s just changed the nature of our work,”

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said Currey, assistant director of MU’s International Center.

Within two years of the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. government implemented new requirements for international students and required that all universities begin using an electronic tracking system called SEVIS, he said.

“The government was moving in this direction already, but when 9/11 hit, it really ramped up the process,” Currey said. “All of the sudden, money was found.”

Regulations that had “always been somewhat burdensome and restrictive and complex” became more so, Currey said.

The combination of increased scrutiny and uncertainty appears to have had an impact on MU’s enrollment, which had been trending up but stalled for several years.

Enrollment of international students declined slightly in the wake

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of 9/11, then hovered between about 1,300 and 1,400 students. By 2007, the number of international students on campus had returned to earlier levels and has increased at a steady rate each year since.

“There were some fluctuations but not significant fluctuations,” Currey said. “I’ve been pleased we didn’t see major, major declines.”

Currey said he thinks 9/11 and the changes that followed may have caused some people who had been working with international students to leave the field. The new paperless system has given students more responsibility, as well.

Learn more

Click here to read the Institute of International Education study on international students’ perceptions of U.S. higher education.

“It (9/11) probably increased the level of seriousness about their immigration documents,” he said.

Despite the changes, students in other countries remain interested in

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an American education. According to a May 2011 report by the Institute of International Education, the United States is the destination of choice for 75 percent of international students planning to study abroad. The study also shows 69 percent think of the United States as welcoming to international students.

Yue Jiang, a 22-year-old student from China, said 9/11 didn’t affect her decision to attend MU.

“The disaster’s not much of a concern,” she said.

Che-Min Su, an international student from Taiwan, said the increased documentation and monitoring requirements were not much of an obstacle as he sought the best education possible.

“There is more you have to do compared to before,” he said, “but as long as you follow the rules you can do it.”