Boston — State universities, strapped for funds, are reevaluating the amount of tuition they charge foreign students studying in this country. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis signed a law Tuesday requiring nonresident aliens at state colleges to pay tuition equal to the amount the state pays to educate them.
Depending upon the university, this new law may double the cost of a foreign student's undergraduate education. The law provides a waiver for certain needy international students, and will not affect tuition rates until the fall of 1988. It will also exempt students already enrolled in state schools.
Concern has been building that states are subsidizing the education of too many foreign students - who, some say, come from affluent families overseas. Legislators also worry that these students may simply take their American education back home to benefit their own countries.
The Massachusetts legislature is not the first one to consider raising tuition for foreign nationals. Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas have all looked at the possibility of tuition hikes for nonresident aliens, according to John R. Wittstruck, a staff member of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
John Reichard, president of the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs, says the new Massachusetts law runs counter to educators' thinking with respect to international students.
He cites Florida as an example where support for international education took over despite attempts to discourage foreign enrollment. In 1981, then-Gov. Bob Gramm vetoed a proposed increase in nonresident alien tuition. Since that time Florida has passed a resolution in support of international education. In 1984, the state initiated the Latin American Caribbean Basin Scholarship Program that provides fellowships to economically deserving Latin American students.
Many educators point to the benefits of international student exchange and suggest that foreign student enrollment builds mutual understanding between countries and enriches the university environment.
Mr. Reichard points to the economic benefits of foreign student enrollment, ``These students are bringing in much more than what they are paying the universities. Seventy-five to 80 percent are funded by their own governments or families, and by a conservative estimate they bring in $2.5 billion.''
Some academic programs in the US depend on foreign students to sustain them.
There were 343,777 foreign students studying in American universities during the 1985-86 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education.
Although these foreign students account for only 2.8 percent of the overall enrollment in the nation's colleges and universities, foreign student enrollment in some specialized graduate and professional fields is overwhelming. In the field of engineering alone, foreign students constitute 41 percent of all recipients of doctorates.
``Our programs wouldn't be what they are today without these foreign students,'' says Dr. Charles Dalton, associate dean at the University of Houston's College of Engineering. ``We couldn't have the variety of courses without the higher numbers of students and the program would simply not be as broad.''
According to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, foreign student enrollment is an important factor in stabilizing enrollments in specialized graduate and professional programs which are not attracting American students. A recent foundation report claimed that this was especially true for science and engineering programs.
``This is not an inspired piece of legislation and the rationale is even less so,'' according to Elinor Barber, director of research at the Institute of International Education. Inspired or not, Massachusetts' new law suggests the necessity of reexamining America's attitude toward foreign students.