Researchers have found that roughly 4.7 million students left their homes to study abroad in 2017, up more than 100 percent from the 2.1 million who did so in 2001.
While the number of students seeking international education has steadily increased, the challenges they face have largely remained the same. These include not only cultural and language adjustments, but financial trials as well.
Though millions pursue educational opportunities abroad each year, paying for that experience is a process that continues to be mired by a host of such challenges.
Students and their families need to pay tuition in the proper currency and in a timely fashion. These problems even plague international students studying in the U.S., which now sees an incoming volume of more than 1 million every year.
It’s a situation with which Terri Carter, director of Student Financial Services at Florida Institute of Technology, is familiar. According to U.S. News & World Report, international students represented 33 percent of the school’s overall student body during the 2016-2017 academic year, the highest rate of international students at any U.S. university.
In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Carter discussed how students and families handle the challenges they face — and how the university works to take some of the pain points out of the payment process.
Managing International Money
Florida Tech’s student body is a diverse one. Its students come from more than 110 countries, predominantly China, India and Saudi Arabia.
With so many international students, Carter said the university needed a service that could handle international payment receivables. It partnered with Western Union Business Solutions to provide students with a portal to deliver money from their home country banks to the school, helping them make timely, accurate tuition payments.
“Students can use the portal in their own currency, fill out information and put in requests for the amount of money they want,” Carter said, adding that the system also helps Florida Tech with reconciliation. “It also gives us additional information so that when the wire gets here we know who it is for.”
Students can make payments on time with the portal in place and, in many cases, can attend the university without disruption while also avoiding debt.
“We don’t want to put them in a situation where they incur a large amount of debt and [are not] able to pay it,” she said.
International Payment Plans
Carter noted that many students struggle with an inability to move money out of their home countries. Many nations — including China, India and some in Latin America — put caps on how much money can be moved out of the country at one time.
For instance, the Reserve Bank of India limits the amount of money that can be transferred out of the country to $250,000 per person per year. In these situations, students must provide paperwork that outlines that the funds are for education as well as the amount of tuition.
But, the regulations can make it more challenging to make tuition payments in a timely manner, even if there are solutions in place.
“Even though it’s their currency and their money, there can be restrictions in place within that country at any given time that prevents them from getting their funds out in a timely manner,” Carter explained.
In addition, while some students’ parents pay for tuition, others are sponsored by their home countries’ governments during their studies. In these cases, Carter said the university simply sends students’ tuition bills to the appropriate government body.
For example, students from Saudi Arabia make up the largest share of Florida Tech’s international student population, she added. Many of these students are sponsored by the Saudi government, which means the country’s embassy, not the students’ parents, will foot their tuition bills.
However, if the school does not ultimately receive payments, Carter said it cannot allow those students to attend classes. To avoid such a scenario, Florida Tech often works with parents or sponsoring embassies to complete the necessary paperwork, ensuring payments are delivered in a series of installments via methods like wire transfer or credit card.
“We allow them to get on a payment plan, which is very useful to them,” Carter noted. “Parents can then make payments in up to four payment installments.”
These payment plans could become even more useful as more students continue to leave their home countries to pursue educational opportunities abroad.
Another recent survey from HSBC found 42 percent of surveyed parents worldwide were considering an overseas education for their children. That’s up 7 percentage points from a year earlier, showing the market for international education is growing. The survey also found that the U.S. is the top destination for students studying abroad, followed by Australia, the U.K. and Canada.
With tuition prices rising alongside the number of students studying abroad, it appears the market for tuition payment solutions is likely poised for big growth in the coming year.