With enrollments down and tuition peaking, many colleges are looking everywhere for way to enhance their revenue streams. A new piece in the New York Times describes the rise of “bridge programs,” which are essentially third-party companies hired by colleges to recruit foreign students to study in American schools and prepare them for a foreign educational system.The purpose of these programs is twofold: There is an abundance of talented foreign students eager to study in the U.S., but most have only heard of the big-name schools, but there aren’t a lot of spots open. Enter bridge programs, which steer foreign students toward lesser-known schools and offer them crash courses in the peculiarities of the American learning environment.The second purpose of these programs—boosting applications and enrollment—is of more interest to the universities:
“It is a wonderful source of revenue,” said Sabah U. Randhawa, Oregon State’s provost. “It helps us afford to admit more resident students, offer them more aid, expand the faculty and infrastructure.”
The university’s joint venture, called Into Oregon State, has about 1,400 students, most from China and most studying engineering. Dr. Randhawa wants to expand it significantly, in part, he said, “because we want more academic and national diversity, and because engineering is an expensive discipline.”
We have no problem with colleges admitting more foreign students, of course. The more the merrier, in fact. But the interesting thing about this is that these foreign students are more likely to pay full price for their tuition. A ha! Now we see what’s really going on.
We’ve long speculated that schools will eventually be forced to make painful decisions about cutting administrative overhead and lowering prices, as American students become more price conscious. There are even signs that this is finally beginning to happen. But schools are also trying to put off the need to make tough choices as long as possible, and bridge programs, by drawing in more students willing to pay full price, are a way of doing this.