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Global Perspectives: Income Instability on College Campuses

Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education
July 2, 2018 Dr. Nkenge Ransom-Friday

As a diversity and inclusion educator and strategist with a comprehensive background leading campus and organizational engagement, I understand firsthand the rippling impact of income instability on college students attempting to balance a demanding course load with limited resources and chronic homelessness.

While we celebrate conversations on campuses to now to include ways to better service an ‘invisible’ constraint for students – particularly highlighting food insecurity and chronic homelessness, attention has been largely limited in scope. Our dialogue must now widen to include international students, a population that many times are personally funding their educational pursuits, sometimes at a higher cost than average domestic student.

For students from a foreign country pursuing a U.S. education is an expensive endeavor. International students are not typically eligible for student aid through the U.S. government, funding opportunities are limited, and many colleges have begun to charge additional international student fees on top of tuition. Recent data from SelfScore (Loudenback, 2016), revealed that international students can pay up to three times more than in-state students at public universities.

According to the Institute of International Education (2016), more than 70% of funding for international college students comes from personal and family funds, as well as country government or university assistance. These numbers indicate an emerging trend – increased tuition rates for cash-strapped institutions are being offset by international students, an act causing an increase of income instability for a population that is also burdened with cultural and transitional difficulties.

The increasing tuition rates and international student fees have also impacted the mobility of international students, the high costs of international travel and government-mandated travel restrictions have forced many international students to fear returning home for long summer breaks, opting instead to remain in the United States for extended periods. For those studying at residential campuses, this only deepens the financial burden.

It is projected that by 2020 the number of international students studying in the United States will increase to seven million students (Altbach, Reisberg, & Rumbley, 2009). With this surge, resources to support academic success have become diverse, shedding much of its English-language learning only emphasis to now include transitioning international students more holistically on campuses. While these are welcome additions in creating inclusive structures and cultures on campuses, the conversation must now shift to include the impact of financial instability for international students.

As the political and social tone of the United States becomes more polarized and divisive, the concerns for international students on financial stability, transition, cultural adjustment, safety and overall well-being, continue to grow. The programs and resources for historically marginalized populations have become far reaching but we must continue to update our conversations to understand the impact (academically, socially and personally) of income instability on students born in a foreign country.

 This is a reality that we can no longer delegate for a later time. Many institutions remain afloat due to the funds brought in by international students – our goal should be to continue to illustrate the importance of an education in the United States, which will be a challenge as our financially burdened international students are also watching the nation debate the humanity in detaining immigrant children in cages – while justifying their separation from their parents.


Altbach, P. G., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L. E. (2009, July). Trends in global higher education: Tracking an academic revolution. A report prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education, Paris.

Institute of International Education. (2016). International students by primary source of funding, 2015/16."  Retrieved from https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students/Primary-Source-of-Funding/2015-16

Loudenback, T. (2016, September 16). International students are now ‘subsidizing’ public American universities to the tune of $9 billion a year. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/11/12/international-students-continue-to-flock-to-us-colleges-grad-schools

Dr. Nkenge Friday is a diversity and inclusion educator and strategist with a comprehensive background leading student and campus engagement, organizational-wide diversity and inclusion operations, and multicultural leadership development in implementing cross-functional teams.

Dr. Friday received her BA from Tougaloo College, MA from the University of Oklahoma and Doctor of Education from Nova Southeastern University. Her research continues to expand to now include higher education institutions abroad, exploring the contribution of the arts and humanities to the social role of higher education for reconciliation in post-conflict contexts.

Dr. Friday currently serves as the Associate Dean of Students and Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Marietta College, located in Marietta, Ohio (USA).