OSU’s INTO Program: An Issue of Public vs. Private Gain

Pretty much anything you’ll hear regarding INTO OSU, the partnership between OSU and the private company INTO University Partnerships that brings international students to study for a year on campus before entering OSU as sophomores, is a variant of OSU Provost Sabah Randhawa’s statement: “The diverse international perspectives [of INTO OSU students] will enrich the educational experiences of our students who will be living and working in an increasingly global economy and society.”

Fair enough. It’s hard to argue with broadening campus diversity without coming across like a xenophobic scumbag. But behind all the “valued global experiences and perspectives” backslapping, there’s the glint of money. Not enough to taint the “It’s a Small World” goodwill aspect of INTO OSU, but nonetheless, a lot of money, much of which is funneling into private hands.

First, the facts

INTO University Partnerships is a UK-based private company that partners with universities to attract and recruit international undergraduate and graduate students. INTO funnels international students into more than a dozen universities in the UK and three in the US—Colorado State, University of South Florida, and Oregon State.

Founded in 2008 as INTO’s first US partnership, INTO OSU offers a prime example of INTO’s modus operandi. INTO OSU students enter one-year “academic pathway” programs designed to prepare students—academically and culturally—to eventually enroll in full-degree programs at OSU. Pathway courses, designed and taught by university instructors, combine academic coursework and English language training. INTO students live on campus and enjoy full access to OSU’s resources and services. After one year at INTO OSU, they are eligible to enter OSU as sophomores. According to OSU’s Public Relations and Marketing Department, 86 percent of the students that completed INTO OSU’s Pathway program in 2009 were eligible to matriculate as OSU sophomores. Of those students eligible to enroll, 99 percent had done so.

In short, it’s a win-win situation: Pathway students gain valuable skills, cultural knowledge, and education, while the university receives a diverse cadre of students paying full-time, non-resident enrollment. But this is where money begins to complicate things.

We’re broke

According to Nick Clark, the editor of World Education News & Reviews, Oregon’s seven public universities suffered a two-year, 11 percent cut in state funding in 2011. This was the third biennial decrease in a row for the university system. OSU responded, as written into Phase II of OSU’s Strategic Plan, by “launching an aggressive effort to develop and secure alternate sources of income.”

“Alternate sources of income” is one way of putting it. On the backs of students is another way. After the 2011 budget cuts, the State Board of Higher Education raised 2012 tuition an average of 7.5 percent. According to Clark, Oregon’s state universities now rely on students for about 70 percent of their instructional money, well above the national average of 48 percent.

More to the point, we’re relying on international students’ out-of-state tuition fees. Consider the numbers: Full-time, non-resident undergraduates are paying about $22,200 for the 2012-2013 school year, compared to resident tuitions of about $8,100. OSU officials estimate that former INTO OSU students who matriculated as second-year students in 2010 will generate approximately $3 million in revenue annually over the next three years to the university and Corvallis.

So it’s no coincidence that, by 2011, Oregon’s public universities were enrolling the largest number of international students ever. This came after a four-year period where international student enrollment at these same schools grew by 45 percent—twice the rate of universities nationwide. It’s no coincidence that OSU set a goal of international enrollment that is 10 percent of the overall student body. A gleaming example of OSU’s commitment to this lucrative process is the new $52 million International Living-Learning Center, which offers dormitory rooms, classrooms, study space, and faculty and administrative offices for INTO OSU.

To be fair, it’s not that anybody’s hiding the fact that INTO OSU is somewhat of a cash cow. In his State of the University address in October 2011, OSU President Edward Ray boasted that “for the last several years we have managed our enrollment to increase our out-of-state and international enrollment substantially, while maintaining moderate growth in resident enrollment to significantly increase tuition revenue.” According to Ray, overall enrollment growth in 2009 and 2010 was close to 8 percent, “with more than two-thirds of that growth from non-resident populations.” According to Phase II of the OSU Strategic Plan, “controlled growth in student enrollment, with a focus on increased diversity of the student population and on raising the proportion of non-resident students in the student mix, moderated financial pressures” (italics added).

As to “raising the proportion of non-resident students,” that’s where INTO OSU comes in.

INTO, coming in

The thing is, OSU isn’t alone in this: the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States has been increasing substantially—8 percent in the 2008-2009 academic year. Universities across the country—especially state universities—are being decimated by budget cuts, and are coming to the same conclusion about international students. Recruitment competition is increasingly fierce, and OSU lacks the capability and capacity to aggressively market to international students. INTO, on the other hand, has a global network of 800 education recruitment representatives in 23 offices worldwide. As Sabah Randhawa, OSU’s provost and executive vice president has stated, INTO OSU is “an integral part of our strategy” to meet the 10 percent enrollment goal.

So what’s the problem? International students want to get an education here, and we want their money. Provost Randhawa has stated that the “increases in tuition revenues that will occur as the international population increases will be directed toward OSU’s academic units”—so that’s good. But how much of a cut of these tuition revenues is going to INTO, a privately-run British company?

Not only is enrollment revenue from “pathway” programs split evenly between INTO and OSU, but once an INTO student enters OSU as a regular degree-seeking student, OSU continues to funnel a portion of these students’ annual tuition payments to INTO. According to Amy McGowan, director of INTO OSU, this portion is “a modest sum.” But according to an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian, it’s a single-digit percentage of students’ onward enrollment fees. And fine, a single percentage can either be regarded as a “modest sum” or as a lot of money. But it’s not just the money—OSU professors, paid with state taxpayer money, are developing and teaching courses for which a private company is reaping half the revenue.

Any way you look at it, OSU obviously believes it’s a cost-effective partnership, and, in McGowan’s words, strives for a “deeply embedded, enduring partnership with both parties being fully committed over the long-term.” And this public-private partnership is, in many ways, the future of our university systems. As The New York Times reported earlier this year, public universities across the country are increasingly turning to the private sector to build and finance on-campus dormitories and university parking lots. Municipalities are privatizing security and even fire protection.

This is the world we live in, no matter how it rubs.

By Nathaniel Brodie



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