Micro-Campus: The Answer to the Enrollment Problem?

By January 16, 2018 No Comments

After years of regular growth in new international enrollments in U.S. higher education, numbers are falling.

According to a recent Open Doors study by the Institute of International Education, the number of new international enrollments in the United States fell 7% over the 2016-2017 school year. In the study of 500 campuses, 45% reported fewer new international enrollments for the 2017 school year.

Over the past 11 consecutive years since Open Doors research began, U.S. higher education has seen a steady influx of international students. Naturally, universities began to rely on the ever-increasing enrollment from foreign students. Those students play a substantial role in higher education finances. In 2016, international students added $39 billion to the United States economy in the form of tuition and living expenses. Additionally, the students enrich the learning environment through diverse perspectives and support staff through teaching assistant positions. Now that fewer students are coming to the states, universities have to re-evaluate.

“The numbers of international students coming to the U.S. are beginning to flatten,” said Rajika Bhandari, head of research, policy and practice at the Institute of International Education. “I would interpret this as by no means a crisis, but really more of a wake-up call where this is the beginning of a flattening trend and there’s a lot that institutions and others can be doing to still turn this around.”

Arizona University found an answer: “micro-campuses.”

The Micro-campus

A micro-campus is a extension of a college or university, designed to offer high quality education to individuals in developing countries. It doesn’t involve building infrastructure like branch campuses, but instead includes a partnership with existing international institutions of higher education. A micro-campus offers a great education for students and opens a new market for a university. A middle class student in India may never be able to afford to go to the United States to be educated, but a local American university with two or three degree options provides a more realistic opportunity.

African students seated at desksThe University of Arizona is leading the field. They have already opened two micro-campus locations. One is located at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao and the other is at the American University Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Over the next three years, UA plans to open 25 micro-campuses. Eleven new locations were identified in May, 2017.

“The idea of a micro-campus [is] in part a response to the failures of traditional models of international education, a lot of which have focused on mobility and others on international branch campuses,” stated Brent White, Arizona’s vice provost for international education and a professor of law. “They also become platforms for other types of internationalization,” White said.

“The micro-campus itself becomes a platform for lots of things we care about for comprehensive internationalization, including faculty training, providing opportunities for students to study abroad on short-term experiences, for internships and other forms of engaged learning.”

The Software Challenge

The creation of micro-campuses introduces a new challenge for higher ed software. Universities and colleges are familiar with the idea of multiple campus locations. The University of Toronto has three within 60 miles of each other. Brigham Young University has three locations: Utah, Idaho, and Hawaii. But international locations? If this new mini-campus trend shakes up 2018 as Education Dive suggests, how will software providers react? Will the student system in a new location adopt the system of the host university? Will it use the same as its parent institution? How will processes remain the same? What will software providers need to do to make IT more efficient?

As Arizona traverses these questions, higher education will look on in curiosity. Perhaps micro-campuses will lead to better cloud technology. Perhaps it will open new ways to share data. To be continued in 2019.

Author Annie Bartlett

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