U.S. Collegians Leaving the U.S.

By Steven Roy Goodman

June 21, 2006 — WASHINGTON — While Congress is debating who should be permitted to come to or stay in America, young Americans have been voting with their feet, increasingly choosing to attend foreign universities.

As an education consultant who advises aspiring undergraduate and graduate-school applicants, I recently spent three days as a guest of the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland — not for a golf holiday but for a program that is putting the university’s best foot forward toward American counselors. The university was showcasing its relatively inexpensive (about $29,000 a year for tuition, fees and living expenses) but high-quality educational product to those who counsel U.S. and international students.

The parents of my non-Ivy-bound students are increasingly concerned about the $45,000 yearly tuition and fees of many private U.S. universities; the almost-as-high price tag of out-of-state public universities; and financial-aid packages composed, on average, more than 70 percent of loans.

Given these staggering costs, it is understandable why many of my American families consider looking abroad for higher education.

The United Kingdom’s Higher Education Statistics Agency reports that since the 2000-’01 academic year, there has been an 80-percent jump, to 2,700, in the number of full-time degree-seeking applicants from the United States for an undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom. The percentage of U.S. citizens at U.K. graduate schools has increased 75 percent, to 8,000, since 2000.

The Canadian government has made a concerted and successful effort to increase the number of international students at Canadian universities. The number of U.S. students studying for Canadian degrees has skyrocketed 220 percent since 1997.

And Australian interest in U.S. students is so high that the Australian embassy in Washington has an education office.

Mothers and fathers shake their heads at the $1,000-a-week tuition charges of U.S. colleges, and curricula that don’t seem to make sense. It is not unreasonable, then, for students and their families to explore education institutions abroad, where costs are lower and academic programs more focused.

There are two ways we can slow the trend of U.S. students shunning U.S. colleges.

First, families must be convinced that colleges truly want to enroll more students from families with financial need. If universities were compelled by policymakers to use at least 5 percent of their endowment income to fund student scholarships — just as private foundations must spend 5 percent of their endowment every year — families would be convinced. The vast sums on which universities are sitting could be used to defray student debt and encourage enrollment in U.S. colleges. Today, over 300 U.S. educational institutions have endowments worth $100 million or more.

Second, there needs to be community involvement in U.S. university governance, to help ground coursework more in market realities, and help universities figure out how to reduce the 46-percent college-dropout rate (almost 50 percent of those who drop out cite financial factors as the main cause).

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that the United States is now behind Ireland, Canada, South Korea, and Japan in the percentage of citizens who have completed a college education.

U.S. universities will have to understand that prospective students are increasingly evaluating university governance, procedures, work products and cost in a global context. If necessary, the government can step in and require particular university behavior, such as in annual tax filings, parity of male and female sports teams, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If universities aren’t careful, the market will further realign the higher-education sector.

Until universities share more of their wealth and commit themselves to graduating more of the students they enroll, more American students will defect to universities overseas. The economic consequences will be real, especially given the decrease — for the first time in 30 years — in number of international students coming to the United States.

Last month, three students of mine from New England chose to attend non-U.S. universities. One chose McGill, in Montreal, over Brown; another chose the University of Edinburgh over Tufts; and the third chose Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, over Wesleyan.

For them the choice was clear: They wanted a high-quality education at a lower price. More of their countrymen are likely to make the same decision in the future.

Steven Roy Goodman is a Washington-based college-admission consultant. He may be reached by e-mail at steve@topcolleges.com

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