Laura Cardona, a senior music therapy major at Montclair State, grew up in Humacao, Puerto Rico. From a young age, she was passionate about music, knowing she wanted to pursue it in college. But her parents and teachers encouraged her to have a backup plan, saying art wasn’t a viable career path.
She decided to marry her love of music with psychology, and in her search for schools along the East Coast, she found Montclair State, just 14 miles from New York City.
“That was my motivation when I was in high school. I thought I wanted to be a Broadway star and New York was it,” Cardona said. “It’s just where I wanted to be. It’s where I could be who I was. It’s where people would respect art. And that was my dream.”
Cardona is one of 337 undergraduate international students at Montclair State, a number that has been declining since the enrollment of 749 in 2008.
Dr. Willard Gingerich, provost and vice president for academic affairs, reasoned that this drop could have been because of the recession, which began in December of 2007. “That was worldwide. It wasn’t just here,” he explained.
A study by SelfScore, a company providing international students with financial services, showed that international undergraduates pay almost three times the cost of tuition for in-state students, effectively decreasing the amount that local students pay to attend. Data shows that New Jersey Institute of Technology students would see a tuition increase as high as 58.5 percent and Rutgers’ tuition would increase by just over 20 percent, if international students paid the same tuition as in-state students.
But at Montclair, this isn’t necessarily the case. “There’s far less differential between the amount international students and out-of-state students pay,” Gingerich said. “They’re not enough to make all that much of a difference. We really need to bring more of the world into Montclair.”
Ester Rivarola is one of the people at Montclair State involved with bringing in more of that world. She is a third-semester international student from Paraguay, pursuing an MBA with a concentration in management and working as an I-20 assistant in the Global Education Center. She helps prospective international students with the process of collecting and submitting all required documentation.
“I feel like I’m helping someone else come here and study,” Rivarola said. “It’s easy for me to put myself in their shoes—to have empathy—because I went through it. It’s amazing when you meet all the students at orientation, and you finally put a face to all of those emails.”
Jessica Browning, a study abroad student from the UK, is at Montclair State from Bournemouth University, where she studies TV production. “My experience so far has been interesting and a little bit of a culture shock,” she said. “Everyone at Montclair is a lot more forward and friendly than back home.”
According to Elizabeth Gill, the director of International Services at Montclair State, the university has strategies in place to recruit more international students, and not for financial reasons. “International students receive not only the advantages of a great US education, but the unique opportunity for cultural exchange with Montclair State University’s extraordinarily diverse student body.”
Cardona echoed those sentiments about education in the US and how she doesn’t want to take for granted her experience here. “It’s easy to complain in college. But when you put it into perspective, who gets to go to college? Who gets to do something they like?” she said. “This is all I wanted in life.”