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    Posted March 9, 2015 by
    La Crosse, Wisconsin

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    International Concerns Grow With WI Education Cuts


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker introduced new cuts to the state’s education program earlier in 2015, University of Wisconsin students protested and backlash ensued.

    iReporter mediaman talked to a group of international students at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse who are worried the cuts may force them to pursue their education in another state. One of the students he interviewed, Yousaf, a native of Saudi Arabia, told state legislators: “I have crossed two oceans to come to Wisconsin to get a good education. Now I only have to cross a river to Minnesota where health care and education are priorities.”
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    After some of the dust had settled following Wisconsin’s historic recall elections, and subsequent re-election of Scott Walker, a new round of public protests erupted over cuts in health care, social services, and education.  Embolden with full control of the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, Governor Walker introduced new dramatic cuts to education.  As Walker positions himself for a likely presidential run, a chorus of international critics is growing louder.


    Some of these critics are international students studying in Wisconsin. Their voices are adding to a larger choir of concerns the state is no longer a solid investment for their education.  This is particularly valid as Governor Walker is suggesting $300 million in cuts to the University of Wisconsin System.  These new voices are coming from students of Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Canada, India, and Senegal.  A group of these students offered their own personal views for a CNN iReport.


    As each student was interviewed, it was apparent they were keenly aware of Wisconsin politics. In fact, these students seemed better informed then most U.S. students in the state. One student, Yousaf, of Saudi Arabia, was particularly well informed. I met him earlier at a legislative forum held in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  As area legislators discussed state budget concerns, Yousaf, without hesitation spoke up.  He raised his hand and said,


    “I have crossed two oceans to come to Wisconsin to get a good education. Now I only have to cross a river to Minnesota where health care and education are priorities. ”


    A week later Yousaf provided more information to emphasize his point.  He said that according to the Institute of International Education, approximately 400 international students in La Crosse, have an economic impact of over $7 million. UW-Madison alone has a $147 million economic impact. NAFSA, the Association of International Educators estimates that international students contribute over $27 billion to the U.S. economy. International students not only pay nearly double the tuition and housing, but they have an enormous economic impact on the local economy.


    Yousaf collected a group of international students to be interviewed.   Each student said they were frustrated how Governor Walker could cut higher education $300 million, while committing almost the same amount for a Milwaukee Bucks sports arena.  Marie, a German student said, “I think education is more important than having a sports stadium. In Germany that would never be possible to do. Education is very much funded by the state.” Lisa, also from Germany added that in America, “education is more of a business, and they want to make money off of it, and that is how it shouldn't be.”


    The students said that the U.S. college experience is much different than in Europe. Lisa commented, “In America you get more support from the professors. They know your name.” When asked what their message would be to politicians in Wisconsin, David, a student from Mexico exclaimed, “Education comes first!”

    As a portrait was taken of each student, Yousaf, wearing his stars and stripes sweater added, “Foreign governments would not hesitate in reallocating their financial support to states which support education, and make investments in faculty and resources.” Some students are partially funded by their governments. Hafsa, a female student from India, said her parents pay for her tuition.


    For Yousaf, he is still deliberating about if he should stay in Wisconsin or not.  His own government may help him make that decision for him.  After crossing two oceans, perhaps crossing one more river may not be a big issue for this 19 year old. Across the river in Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton is proposing to tap the state’s nearly $2 billion surplus to invest in education.  State politics may determine where Yousaf ultimately decides to earn his degree. For many international students, they just may take their finances with them.

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