Microcredentials drive WSU’s international student enrollment gains


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When the Kansas Board of Regents released official fall enrollment numbers last month, Wichita State was the only university to report an increase in international student headcount enrollment.

The number of degree-seeking international students at WSU has decreased each of the last four years, but this decline has been offset by a spike in international students taking badge courses — self-directed online classes offered for half a credit hour.

WSU’s international headcount enrollment was 1,758 this fall — an increase of 123 students from 2018. But the combined number of international students seeking undergraduate and graduate degrees dropped by 38 to 1,123 students. This fall, there are 309 fewer international students seeking degrees at WSU than in 2015.

But roughly 600 international students are enrolled in badge courses this semester.

WSU has aggressively marketed its badge course program in recent years. This semester, the university is offering 181 distinct badges in disciplines ranging from engineering and behavioral sciences to general workforce skills and “creative.”

Vince Altum, executive director of WSU’s Office of International Education, said self-directed online courses are appealing to international students seeking professional development.

“Our enrollment success this semester was largely due to a big increase in non-degree international students who are taking online classes at WSU from overseas,” Altum wrote in an email to The Sunflower. “Since these students are taking online classes while in their home country, they don’t have to go through the stringent (and expensive) visa application process to come to the U.S.”

Altum said he’s been surprised by the variety of badge courses in which international students have enrolled. The most popular badge courses for international students this semester are as follows:

  • Globalization and its Implications: 48 students
  • Computer Programming for Engineers: 47 students
  • Professional Correspondence, Emails and Memos: 38 students
  • Writing and Social Media: 36 students
  • Managing Employee Performance: 36 students

The decline in degree-seeking international students is not unique to WSU or Kansas. International enrollment has been down nationwide in recent years.

“Most schools in the U.S. attribute the decrease in international enrollment to the perception that the Trump administration’s foreign policy is anti-international,” Altum wrote, noting that Canada’s international enrollment has increased by more than 20% in the same timeframe.

Even though WSU’s degree-seeking international student enrollment is down, Altum said the situation could be much more dire.

“For undergraduate students who physically came to campus for Fall 2019, we also had a much higher enrollment yield than we expected,” Altum wrote.

Last school year, WSU implemented the Global Select Scholarship, a program that gives high-achieving international students the opportunity to pay 150% of in-state tuition to attend the university.

According to Altum, 65 new degree-bound international students enrolled with the Global Select for fall 2019.


Fall 2019 International Student Headcount Enrollment

University of Kansas: 2,228

Wichita State: 1,758

Kansas State: 1,471

Emporia State: 288

Pittsburg State: 275

Fort Hays State: 168