International Student enrollment down in 2020


  A group of international students celebrate International Night by showing their nation’s flag. Several flags lined the front of the stage where the performances were held.

Nicole Hudson, Reporter (She/Her)

The total student enrollment for South Dakota State University has seen a decrease of about 1%. This decrease is predominantly due to the drop in international student enrollment, which has been a direct effect of COVID-19. 


According to SDSU’s Office of the President, international student enrollment dropped from 719 from the 2019 school year to 606 in the 2020 school year. SDSU has seen the biggest decrease in the new international student population. Many of the new international students slated to attend SDSU this fall have had to attend online or delay their enrollment.   


Additionally, some international students who planned to return to SDSU this fall were unable to acquire the documentation required to travel to the United States amid the pandemic. 


United States embassies around the world have been forced to close or are only performing limited duties due to COVID-19. This has resulted in many international students not being able to receive or renew their visa, preventing them from attending classes on campus. 


“There is a lot of uncertainty for our international students,” said Derek Schmidt, an international student advisor. “Because there are fewer visas being approved, there is an uncertainty if they are going to be able to study here and if they will be able to maintain their status in the U.S.” 


International students who stayed in the United States through the pandemic have been able to return to campus for the fall semester, however.


“The current international students, for the most part, enrolled either on campus or from back home online,” said Eric Leise, director for international admissions. “Where we saw the decline would have been because we didn’t have the typical intake of new international students we would have in the fall.” 


Another obstacle that has prevented several international students from being on campus has been the travel restrictions. The CDC has recommended that students cancel any international travel due to health risks and other challenges linked to traveling during the pandemic. 


International students have also been faced with the challenge of finding new ways to communicate with other students on campus and abroad. Student clubs and organizations who have high numbers of international students, such as the International Relations Council, have been struggling to gain new members and find ways to meet with existing members. 


The students haven’t been able to host cultural nights on campus, a celebration of the cultures represented at SDSU, as well. Cultural nights are an important part of the international community at SDSU, and with fewer international students, they have not had enough volunteers to run the events. 


Thirty-six new international students, who were unable to be on campus, began their education with SDSU online through the Global Start campaign. Though these students were able to take courses online, they have faced several challenges due to the nature of online classes. They have had to become acclimated to the American school system and expectations without having the guidance that is often available on campus. These students are also faced with the challenge of time zone issues, requiring international students to attend scheduled Zoom classes throughout the night. 


Other international students have had issues with internet connectivity, low bandwidth limits and more. 


“About 40% of the new students who started online in the fall ended up not finishing because it was too difficult,” Leise said. 


International admissions at SDSU are hoping for a more normal fall 2021 intake of new international students. If procedures for issuing visas at the embassies are able to return to normal, that will increase the number of international students that will be able to attend SDSU in person for the next fall semester. 


“We are seeing good interest, our application numbers are going up right now, so the indicators are good,” Leise said. “It is all of the external barriers that we don’t have control over that remain an unknown.”


As SDSU is faced with more challenges amid the pandemic, the school is looking for new ways to get international students on campus. With all of the changes to how students are learning, the university is implementing new recruitment and communication methods for international students.


 “We are now rethinking how we are able to get international students here on campus,” Schmidt said.