By Erica Perez
Solano College will pay a consultant more than $100,000 over two years to recruit international students from Asia - at a time when the community colleges have undergone severe budget cuts and many in-state students are struggling to get the classes they need.
Solano College Superintendent-President Jowel Laguerre says the move will bring in additional revenues that will eventually help support the college's bottom line. International students pay about $197 more per unit than local students at Solano.
But the academic senate has weighed in against the plan, saying it could have a negative effect on local students, was approved without adequate faculty input and might not pencil out financially.
The move comes as the University of California and California State University systems have increased the number of international and out-of-state students in an effort to increase tuition revenues.
The CSU system stoked controversy this year when officials announced they were closing spring enrollment for graduate programs for California residents but leaving the door open to out-of-state and international students, who pay higher fees.
And the UC system has made a contentious push to attract more international and out-of-state students to increase revenues. The system admitted nearly double the number of non-California residents for this fall as it did two years ago.
In September, the Solano Community College District board of trustees unanimously approved a two-year contract for $53,000 per year with consultant Naoki Hirota to recruit students primarily from China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam to the Fairfield-based college.
Hirota came recommended by officials at Contra Costa Community College District, which has hired Hirota in the past to recruit international students, according to district documents.
Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, part of the Contra Costa district, enrolled 1,556 international students last year, a 29 percent increase from 2007-08, according to data from the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit that conducts an annual census of international students in the United States.
Solano College, which currently enrolls about 20 international students, hopes to attract a stream of 500 students per year by 2018-19. That would bring in an extra $3.6 million in tuition revenues - about $7,290 per full-time international student - but it's uncertain how much net revenue the college would glean because it's not clear how much it will cost to serve these additional students.
Unlike California resident students, whose community college attendance is subsidized by the state, international students pay the full cost of their education. So while community colleges receive roughly $5,000 from the state for every full-time resident student, they don't get the same funding for international students.
Laguerre said in an interview that he has a business plan for the international student recruitment initiative but is not making it public until he has shared it internally.
He said he expects as the college ramps up the international student program, it will be able to hire more faculty and offer more classes for students, both local and international. The college will also beef up student services, such as advising and financial aid, he said.
"This is an investment that we're really making in the future of the college as well as the budget of the college," Laguerre said.
Solano College Academic Senate President Susanna Gunther said the faculty group has several concerns about the district's investment in international student recruitment.
For one, the senate has questioned the college's ability to add enrollment without sacrificing access for local students, particularly in the first few years. California students should not have to compete for limited resources and services, Gunther said. The college has cut 240 course sections since fall 2009 as a result of several years of state budget cuts.
"Our biggest mission is to educate our local population," she said. "That's the taxpayers that are paying for the community colleges."
Laguerre said many classes at Solano - advanced math, for example - had low enrollment in the fall. International students could fill these classes to capacity without costing the college more. He said demand for some classes would always outstrip supply because the college doesn't have enough science labs or enough faculty members with the expertise to teach certain subjects.
"It's not our intention to displace any Solano student who comes to the college when we bring the international students," he said. "That's not what we intend to do at all."
Coordinator of marketing and student recruitment Shemila Johnson suggested in an August meeting of the superintendent-president's cabinet that bringing more international students to Solano could increase the rate at which the college's students transfer to four-year universities, meeting minutes show.
But Laguerre distanced himself from that statement, saying the college is not pursuing international students to improve its transfer rate. A primary mission of the community college system is to help students transfer to four-year universities, and the chancellor's office tracks these rates.
Johnson also said at an August board meeting that the district expects 250 international students would bring in more than $1 million in revenues, or $4,000 per student. Laguerre said those numbers are no longer accurate because officials are thinking of the program differently now.
The contract with Hirota went to the board for approval without being vetted by faculty, Gunther said. State education code requires district presidents to consult with faculty on matters that deal with educational programs.
Laguerre said recruiting international students has been part of the college's strategic plan since 2009, however.
"That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone," he said.
At an October meeting, the Solano College Academic Senate agreed it needed more information on the international student program, including the potential costs and revenues as well as the impact on current students.
"I think it's not an efficient use of our limited funds right now," Gunther said. "It's going to be hard to make millions of dollars. I don't see how it adds up, personally."