Saudi student enrollment declines

Similar to other universities across the United States, UTM is feeling the effects of declining Saudi Arabian student enrollment.

At UTM, there are currently 182 international students registered in degree programs, 61 percent of whom are Saudi students. The program is down 15 percent from the spring semester.  Enrollment in the university’s Tennessee Intensive English Program has also dropped from 93 students to 41.

The decline has led to what Amy Fenning, director of International Programs and Admissions, calls “a financial crunch.” As a result, she has released three teachers from their contracts.

“The good news is that diversity is up,” said Fenning. “…A smaller population means we give more love to the ones that are here.”

Many factors are speculated as the the root of this problem.  CNN has reported that 75% of the kingdom’s revenue is from oil sales and there has been a drastic change in market price.  According to economonitor.com, oil went from over $100 per barrel in 2014 to dip to $26 per barrel in Feb. of 2016. While this number has increased to $50 as of June 2015, this is still a significant decrease.

Also of note are unofficial changes that have been made to the King Abdullah Scholarship Program and the secession of Salman bin Abdulaziz after his death in 2015.

Founded in 2005 by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, KASP (renamed the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Scholarship Program) made the country the fourth largest supplier of international students to American universities. In the most recent survey completed by the Institute of International Education, nearly 60 thousand Saudi students were enrolled during the 2014-2015 academic year. 

The full-coverage, five-year scholarship provides a monthly stipend for students, spouse and children; full tuition; medical and dental coverage; annual round trip tickets for students and family; academic supervision; tutoring fees and other allowances according to the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission.

SACM serves as the middleman between American schools on behalf of their students to secure available educational opportunities.

To apply for KASP, students had to pay for up to 18 months of English training and could apply at the university of their choice and to the program of their choice. They could take no less than 12 hours a semester and had to retain a 2.0 GPA.

Current UTM students, like Abdullah Alshammari and Faisal Alabdullatif, will not be effected by the changes. The seniors are both business management students who will go on to graduate school. Alabdullatif has been a student as of 2011 and Alshammari since 2014.

Alshammari said he hoped to serve as an example of his good culture and for those who may be scared about studying overseas.

New incoming students must apply for the fund in their country and pay for 30 hours of English training.  They also must study in the fields of medicine, medical science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering technology, electrical engineering, mechanical electrical engineering, technology, accounting, law, engineering and computer science, and tourism and hospitality. Schools must also be among the top 100 or top 50 of their field.

However, while evidence of this has been visible, including an article published by the Saudi Press Agency on Feb. 1, 2016, the SACM has not officially communicated this to universities.

“Part of the difficulty that we have is we don’t have specific policies from the Saudi government,” said Dr. Malcolm Koch, political science instructor and Executive Director of the Center for International Education. “We know that things are changing, but we haven’t really been officially notified of how they are changing and what the new criteria are.”

UTM’s Tennessee Intensive Language Program was accredited for the first time from the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation and despite declining enrollment, the outlook remains high.

“Over time, we have proven that this is a good place to go to school so I think in time all of this will settle down and maybe we won’t have as many Saudi students as we have in the past, but I think we will continue because Saudi students have been here and had a very good experience,” said Koch.

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