International students are not eligible for state subsidies and therefore pay much higher tuition than California residents to attend public schools. At Foothill and De Anza they pay $148 per unit, nearly nine times more than California residents, who pay $17 per unit.
The question is getting scrutiny in the press, and by an Alameda County grand jury. Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle questioned in their July 12 column whether it is appropriate for junior colleges to look for students overseas when there may not be enough space for students at home.
The recently released civil grand jury report questioned the foreign recruitment practices of the Peralta Community College District, which has drawn about $4 million this year from foreign student enrollment. And a July 15 article in the Los Angeles Times detailed the University of California's plan to enroll more international students this year "to garner the much higher tuition that nonresident students must pay."
Last year, the Foothill De Anza Community College District brought in $18.6 million — about 10 percent of the district's operating revenue — in non-resident tuition, according to Becky Bartindale, a spokeswoman for the district. The vast majority of non-resident students come from outside the United States, she said. In the fall of 2009, Foothill and De Anza had 3,701 foreign students from nearly 100 countries. Total enrollment in fall 2009 was 44,000.
The district's International Programs Office is dedicated to recruiting and serving international students by helping with housing, visas and other issues. Four representatives from the office spend about 20 to 40 percent of their time overseas promoting Foothill and De Anza, according to Bartindale.
Ross, the Chronicle columnist, said via e-mail that it was not his place to say whether any California community college's recruitment practices were ill advised.
"The question," Ross wrote, "is what's the mission of public colleges in California, and should they be spending lots of money and resources trying to attract foreign students when there may not be enough slots for students already here."
It is true that thousands of students were unable to enroll in the classes they wanted this year, Bartindale said. However, class reductions were a result of state budget cuts that impacted residents and non-residents alike, she said. To conflate those reductions with enrollment of international students would be a mistake, she said.
According to both college presidents, the international student programs at Foothill and De Anza were started long before the current financial crisis — in 1989 — and are not aimed at generating revenue so much as encouraging diversity on campus.
"The original motive is the enduring motive — the educational experience," said Brian Murphy, president of De Anza. "The fundamental educational purposes have become obscured by all the discussion about the finances."
Murphy said he feels that Matier and Ross "misunderstand the origins of the program," a sentiment Judy Miner, president of Foothill, shares.
"As educators, we got into this as part of a deep commitment to teaching and learning," Miner said.
Bringing in students from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds only enriches the education students receive, she said.
In answer to the question posed by Ross, Murphy had an answer:
International students do not deprive local students of seats in Foothill and De Anza classrooms, he said. "Quite the contrary."
"It is true that the program brings in unrestricted revenue to the district," Murphy said. But, according to him, if the district did not get the revenue generated by international student tuition, the colleges would have to cut back on programs. Instead, "we are able to offer more programs to local students."
The way Murphy and Miner see it, bringing foreign students to Foothill and De Anza is a win-win situation. Students gain from the diversity of language, culture, politics and ideas on campus, and the college pulls in extra cash.
"We are not a parochial or nativist culture," Murphy said of Foothill and De Anza. "The history of this state is the integration of people from all over the world. It's the genius of Silicon Valley and the genius of our colleges and universities."