Cross Border Commerce

Streamlining The International Tuition Payment Process

For the more than one million international students studying in the U.S., navigating the admissions process can mean encountering a cross-border tuition payments landscape riddled with friction. In fact, says Michelle Larson-Krieg, the University of Colorado Denver’s international student director, for visiting students the process can feel like an academic course in overseas tuition payments. In the brand-new Global Payments Architecture Report, Larson-Krieg explains how CU Denver works to streamline and make the international tuition payment process more transparent.

Many universities and colleges across the United States invest heavily in recruiting and enrolling international students at their institutions.

This brings several benefits to the higher education institutions. Many global students pay full tuition, contributing heavily to a university’s revenue and boosting the local economy. Building up their international student populations also means universities can boast a diverse student body when recruiting future enrollees.

Challenges with making international tuition payments can cause headaches for students who are based overseas, however — and also for their families. Complications with foreign currency conversion rates or fees force many international students to figure out cross-border tuition options in addition to taking on their academic workload.

However, some universities have streamlined the navigation of complex international tuition payments. The University of Colorado Denver, a public institution with international students representing roughly 6 percent of the total student population, hosted 1,489 students from 73 countries during the fall 2017 semester, according to the latest figures provided by CU Denver’s Office of International Affairs. Most of these students came from China (665), followed by India (218) and Saudi Arabia (177).

PYMNTS recently spoke with Michelle Larson-Krieg, director of international student and scholar services at CU Denver, to gain a better understanding of how the university is addressing the financial needs of its international students.

Easing the Cross-Border Tuition Process

Larson-Krieg said that, in the past, the university hosted a large share of international students who attended under a sponsorship agreement, with their tuition paid by their home countries’ governments. The rate of sponsored students attending CU Denver has gradually declined over the years, she explained, as more and more students took on the responsibility of handling their own tuition payments. As such, the school realized it needed a new solution to address the financial needs of students who come from varying backgrounds and cultures, speak different languages and would be sending money in foreign currencies.

“It contributed to the recognition that we need a system that makes it easier for everybody,” Larson-Krieg said.

Today, the university uses a platform from international payments processor Flywire to address the tuition needs of international students. The service works by communicating financial expectations in students’ local currencies, enabling them to make the payments and offering the university a secure avenue to receive the tuition.

The platform can also reduce the number of charges typically involved when a bank makes cross-border tuition payments, a feature that’s helpful for both families and universities.

“It really just streamlines the tuition process for international students,” Larson-Krieg said. “It allows us to get payments in a timely manner without charging too many fees.”

An International Tuition Crash Course

Although they may come to the U.S. to pursue degrees and take the necessary steps for their future, Larson-Krieg noted that international students also wind up learning much more about the cross-border tuition process than their domestic counterparts.

“For many of them, this may be the first [time] they’ve had this level of responsibility for finances, especially of this magnitude,” she explained.

The university looks to educate international students and produces a document to help them understand “realistic student expenses.” It explains that international students are not eligible for the same types of funds or scholarships available to in-state and domestic students, for example, helping students understand the scope of their financial situations.

Students are also able to proactively monitor their finances online. When a CU Denver international student receives a tuition bill, he can log on to the school’s online portal, which then redirects him to the Flywire platform. There, he can view his account information and see which fees could be incurred if a payment arrives late.

Education and communication is needed for any higher education institution that hosts a sizable international student population, Larson-Krieg said.

“There’s a need for as much transparency as there can be, and probably additional training and recognition that this could be the first time someone is dealing with something [of this scale],” she added.

Keeping International Students Enrolled

After more than two decades of steady growth, the population of international students pursuing a higher education in the U.S. appears to be leveling off. That number reached its peak at more than 600,000 in 2015, according to data from the U.S. State Department. It steadily dropped in the following years, registering a 17 percent decline in the number of international students attending U.S.-based higher education institutions on F-1 visas in the 2017 fiscal year.

Though the overall decline is causing anxiety among some colleges and universities, Larson-Krieg said CU Denver has not been affected by the downturn. Instead, the school has seen its international student population remain steady, even as others have seen a drop in overseas enrollments.

But the recent trends of declining international students indicate the market could become more competitive in the coming years for universities. This puts pressure on host universities to help students understand and quickly navigate the obstacles involved in international tuition payments.

“It’s incumbent on an institution to be nimble enough to adjust to [changing] conditions,” Larson-Krieg said.

Being transparent and raising awareness about financial obligations could be the most effective course for these higher education institutions, particularly as they work to establish and maintain a pipeline of students from overseas.

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