Critics claim SUNY selling seats for extra revenue, not case at Oswego

With over $1 billion having been cut from SUNY budgets in the past five years, SUNY schools have had to be inventive to make ends meet. Some outspoken citizens, however, are accusing SUNY schools of taking this inventiveness too far.

A recent column by Newsday’s Daniel Akst claimed that SUNY schools were offering more spots to foreigners to help meet budget gaps, essentially stealing seats from New York residents. Akst noted that foreigners now make up more than 13 percent of the SUNY Stony Brook student body, which is significantly higher than 10 years ago.

There is some debate over whether this phenomenon is occurring at Oswego State. According to enrollment records published by the Institutional Research board, foreign students made up 1.1 percent of the student body this year, the same as in 2007. This number peaked in 2009 at 1.3 percent, but has otherwise shown very little variation. This number does not include exchange students and graduate level international students, which nearly doubles the number of international students. Records also showed that there has been a significant drop in Oswego County residents at Oswego State since 2007, which are being mostly replaced with residents from New York City and Long Island.

Economics professor Ranjit Dighe provided a possible explanation for the changes in these populations.

“I would think that the higher-profile American schools, including private colleges like Colgate and SU and public university centers like Binghamton and Albany, would attract the most foreign applicants, Dighe wrote in an email.

Whereby many strong, but less-stellar, American students drop down a tier in terms of the college they get into and go to,” Dighe said. “So then the question becomes, is this new group of NYC area students stronger on average than the rest of our students? If not, then there’s probably a different reason for the increase [in NYC and LI residents].”

He also pointed out the possibility that some international students may claim a residence inside the United States for tuition purposes and therefore not show up as foreign students in SUNY records.

The number of foreign students studying in the U.S. has been increasing for the past decade, according to the Institute of International Education. By their measure, the number of international students in the U.S. has grown by over 32 percent in that period. These foreign students generally pay a higher tuition rate at state universities, leading some such as Akst to question a school’s motives for attracting foreign students. Akst claimed in his article that “The main reason many universities — particularly state schools — are accepting so many foreign students is that their families pay full freight at a time when taxpayer support for higher education has been collapsing. Basically, we’ve decided to sell off spots in some of our most coveted universities in order to pay the bills.”

Joshua McKeown, director of International Education and Programs at Oswego State, offered a different perspective on international students.

“It’s important to attract and retain international students to SUNY Oswego,” McKeown said in an email. “They are an incredibly important population to have on campus as we further internationalize our campus community. We live in an age of globalization and increasing international economic competition, so our campus learning environment is enriched and made more positive by the presence of students from other countries who want to come to Oswego to learn from our faculty and share their experiences from abroad.”

To that end, McKeown has been leading Oswego State’s effort to recruit qualified international students, and can claim some success.

“SUNY Oswego has grown our international student population impressively over the past decade, from only 89 in 2002 to 147 this year,” McKeown said. “That’s a pretty big increase in a fairly short time (more than 60 percent).”

These numbers are expected to grow in coming years as the SUNY system and Oswego State ramp up their efforts to attract international students. This may begin to become more controversial if it begins to threaten Oswego State’s articulation agreements with community colleges.

“Our main mission as a state college is arguably to provide a quality low-cost education to NYS residents, including qualified community college graduates,” Dighe said. “So with a fixed number of seats, admitting more foreign students would entail admitting fewer NYS students and perhaps endangering our articulation agreements with community colleges.”