Dear America: Why Do International Students Have Higher Tuition?

America received a great question about the cost of tuition for international students in the United States. Read what she had to say!

Dear America,

Why is the international student tuition the highest out of all the students when international students really are a benefit? It’s even proven. People like me are having to go back to their countries as the tuition is just outrageous.






Dear Italy,

Before I begin to answer your question, I want to explain that tuition costs in general are a sensitive issue for many students—not just international students. Given the recession in the American economy that started several years ago, a few trends have been on the rise. Federal and state governments have entered an era of penny-pinching and struggle to minimize both the federal and state budgets. What this means is that financial support for students and universities from the government has been dramatically reduced.

Financial support for students and universities from the government has been dramatically reduced. Today 66% of U.S. students borrow money to pay for school and spend several years after graduation paying back loans.

To show the financial effect here are some statistics from Ohio State University: In 1990 the state government provided 25% of the school budget, by 2002 that support dropped to 15%, and this year, 2012, the state government provided only 7% of the school budget. Universities across the nation are struggling with this budget crisis, and the way most schools have tried to “fix” the problem isn’t a sustainable solution. The lack of federal and state support is then relayed to students in higher tuition costs. On top of that many colleges are accepting too many students to their campuses in order to get their tuition money, while at the same time decreasing the costs spent on supporting those students by reducing programs, cutting staff, forcing unpaid “furlough” days (days which employees must not work and are not paid for the forced time off), and encouraging early retirement of professors while limiting their paygrades as they demand the same professors to manage more and more students. Because of these government budget cuts, tuition costs have risen dramatically. In our previous example of Ohio State University, their tuition since 2002 has risen by 60%.

In America, the job market is swamped by over-qualified people who can’t find work, and the competition is fierce—it is getting extremely difficult for recent graduates to find work let alone those who couldn’t go to college. Therefore, the majority of American families feel it is absolutely necessary for their children to go to college, and that those expenses are worth the cost to secure for their child’s future. In order to pay these costs, most students take on loans and borrow money from their families. Over 66% of students borrow money from the government or banks (this percentage doesn’t include money borrowed from family or friends so the actual percentage is even higher). Of that huge amount of people in debt from student loans, only 38% of that dept is being paid back in 2012. What that means is 62% of the people in debt are either in school or they are postponing payments or not paying at all because they can’t afford to pay. All statistics found in this response are from this New York Times article (which has even more information if you are interested).

Now what does this mean for international students? Many universities have welcomed the increasing number of international students onto their campuses. Recruiting students internationally makes a substantial contribution to their annual campus budget. Furthermore, the wonderful learning environments created by a diverse student body helps all of us—American and International students—to grow as people and to become culturally aware citizens of the globe. I am also aware that American tuition costs are most likely some of the highest in the world, and so the majority of our international student body is shocked by the vast differences in tuition costs from their home countries versus American higher education. You are right Italy—it is outrageous and frustrating and in an ideal world American universities should make drastic changes to encourage the cross-cultural exchange that takes place on campus. But I hope in your frustration, you also see that American students are faced with similar dilemmas—many students taking on so much debt that they will have it till they die and others being forced to drop out of school because they can’t afford to keep going.

In February 2012, international students at Purdue University protested the international student fee increase approved by the university. Many international students have an “international student fee” separate from tuition. Read more about this story here by clicking on the photo.

To answer your question more specifically about tuition cost differences between international and “domestic” students, there is an important distinction to make. State universities often have resident and non-resident tuition and you are right that these are different costs, but this also affects domestic students as many of the out-of-state American student body must pay the non-resident tuition. I agree it is a broken system, but this is why its in place: these universities have funding from state taxes, paid by state residents, so these residents reap the benefits from having paid taxes to the state by getting a reduced tuition.

So Italy to wrap up—I truly hope this situation can change, but the solution is not a straight-forward one. I encourage you to discuss this with your peers—American and International—to see if you can make changes on your home campus. Challenge the administration, go to student senate meetings and let your voice be heard! Write to student newspapers, organize student protests or forums to discuss these issues and to come up with alternative strategies universities can use to successfully support their student body. There is an American turn of phrase that fits the occasion, “United we stand, divided we fall.” Remember that you are not alone in your financial frustration and that if American students joined forces with the International student body to question their home university’s decisions you will have a substantial power to be reckoned with. As individuals, we struggle to make a difference, but perhaps together we can. Best of luck!



Do you have a question for America? Click here!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Skip to toolbar