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Starting this fall incoming international undergraduate students at Eastern Michigan University will pay the same tuition rate as everyone else, including Michigan residents who enroll at the public university.

Eastern Michigan announced Friday that incoming international undergraduates will pay $413.60 per credit hour, the same rate as all other undergraduate students, and an approximately 60 percent reduction compared to the current international tuition rate of $970 per credit hour.

The action follows on one taken by Eastern Michigan in 2016 to extend the resident tuition rate to all domestic undergraduates, both in- and out-of-staters. The Board of Regents approved the proposal to further extend the in-state tuition rate to undergraduate international students on Friday, at the same time it raised the undergraduate resident tuition and fees rate by 3.88 percent.

“Recruitment of international students is I think a challenge in today’s environment,” said Eastern Michigan’s president, James Smith. “Many students think the United States is not as welcoming as it was four, five, six years ago.”

Eastern Michigan has been highly involved in a national campaign to send a welcoming message to international students known as “You Are Welcome Here.” Last fall the university installed 108 “You Are Welcome Here” banners featuring pictures of 108 of its international students on light posts around campus and hung a 23-foot-tall, 80-foot-wide banner featuring all 108 images on the wall of a parking garage in the center of campus.

“This is just an extension of that,” Smith said, “to let students know not only do we want them here and that we value them as potential students but that we value them enough that we’re willing to have a one-rate” tuition policy.

Eastern Michigan’s move is highly unusual. Most international students coming to American public universities pay out-of-state tuition rates, which can be two to three times the rate state residents pay. Some institutions even charge a third, higher rate to international students. Public universities in the U.S. have increasingly come to rely on the higher tuition rates paid by international students to balance their budgets and offset the impact of cuts in state appropriations.

Asked about the projected financial impact of reducing the international rate, Smith said he hopes that the change will result in increased international enrollments. Eastern Michigan enrolled 800 international students in fall 2017, down from 872 the year before, and is looking to double its international student enrollment by 2022, Smith said.

“We hope that the numbers will be increased to the level that by enrolling more we’ll offset that difference of cost per credit hour with volume. It’s a logical assumption that we have -- it’s based on having looked at what we were able to do with one-rate in-state and out-of-state, but it’s still a bit 'build it and they will come.' We are certainly hopeful that they will indeed come,” Smith said.

Smith said Eastern Michigan administrators did consider the possibility they would be criticized by residents or lawmakers who might question why Michiganders would be asked to pay the same rate as international students. Generally public universities charge lower rates to in-state residents based on the rationale that they and their families contribute to the state tax base.

Some commenters on Eastern Michigan’s Facebook page criticized the decision Friday, posting comments like “So my taxes will subsidize this?” and “The cost will just be passed along to the students from the state of Michigan.”

“Our state support numbers are very low,” Smith said. The university says that its $77 million state appropriation for next year will account for 24.8 percent of the total budget.

“I think it does set up a different dynamic. Sure, we’ll have some people that will criticize it, but that’s probably true of anything we do in university administration.”

“We just think this speaks very well to who we are at Eastern Michigan, what we believe, where we recruit.”

While Eastern Michigan’s new flat undergraduate tuition rate is certainly unusual -- especially for a doctoral university -- it is not wholly unique. It seems unlikely this sort of strategy would be adopted by public flagship universities, which turn away large numbers of in-state applicants and in many cases turn away large numbers of international applicants as well, but some regional public institutions have moved toward a one-rate tuition policy for all students, including international students.

Elsewhere in Michigan, Lake Superior State University announced late last month that it would extend a flat tuition rate of $485 per credit hour to students from around the world. Previously the university had a flat tuition rate just for students from North America; students from outside the continent had to pay a $727 per credit hour rate.

Lake Superior State said in a press release it hoped to use the one-rate tuition policy to promote what it considers to be key programs in computer science, fisheries and wildlife, and engineering, including a new degree in robotics engineering.

Another institution that charges a flat tuition rate for all students -- in-state and out-of-state domestic and international -- is Minot State University, in North Dakota, which received approval for its one-rate tuition policy in 2008. Katie Tyler, Minot State’s enrollment services director, said the university enrolled 309 international students -- about 10 percent of its population -- in fall 2017. The majority, 186 students, came from Canada, and the other 123 students came from elsewhere. Tyler said Minot State does not do international recruitment travel, except in Canada.

“I think if you ask most of our international students who find us, it’s because they’re finding us online through searches that help them find affordable options in the United States,” Tyler said. In 2017-18, an international student coming to Minot State -- or a student from Fargo, for that matter -- could expect to pay annual undergraduate tuition and fees of $6,809.

A policy in the Minnesota State College and University system also lets universities charge resident tuition to international students at their discretion. Some Minnesota institutions offer scholarships that cut the cost of tuition to the in-state rate, or close to it. Minnesota State University, Mankato, automatically awards all international students a “cultural contribution scholarship” that allows them to pay a rate that’s only about 10 percent higher than in-state tuition; students must maintain certain academic standards and contribute a minimum of 25 “cultural contribution hours” per semester in order to remain eligible.

St. Cloud State University offers a similar “Academic and Cultural Sharing Scholarship” for international students that cuts the tuition for international students to the in-state rate.

Similar to the Mankato campus program, St. Cloud awards the scholarship automatically to eligible incoming international students, but students have to maintain a minimum GPA and complete two “cultural sharing activities” every semester to remain eligible in subsequent semesters. The list of approved activities is long, and includes everything from cultural activities to community service to participation in the band or choir or Greek life.

St. Cloud State has more than 1,500 international students, representing about 10 percent of its student population, according to Shahzad Ahmad, the interim associate vice president of the Center for International Studies.

“It’s a very good value for international students,” Ahmad said of the scholarship. “And having a little bit of a requirement for them to maintain academic standards as well as giving back to the community, I believe it really is good both for the international students as well as for St. Cloud State.”

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