MidEast Dun Landed On Idaho State. It No Fit?! Wait. But. Why.

11:05 01 May in Culture, Thoughts

Pocatello (affectionately called “Pokey” by those in the know) is not exactly the biggest city in the United States. It’s not even the biggest city in Idaho. When driving north to south through the city, it takes approximately ten minutes to drive through. Nestled in between two mountain ranges, it looks pretty innocuous. Just like most of Idaho. But when Middle Eastern students studying at Idaho State wanted to build a mosque within walking distance of the university, controversy was stirred.


Despite opposition from a number of local people, plans for building the mosque were approved, creating a safe place for the increased number of Saudi and Kuwaiti students who had started to flood towards Idaho State. It might surprise some to learn that there are more than a thousand Middle Eastern students attending Idaho State University, making up a full tenth of the school’s total enrollment and, in total, paying more than $40 million a year to attend the school. It makes sense that ISU would make an effort to help these students feel more at home on their campus.


This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been roadblocks for these students or for Pocatello and ISU as more and more foreign students arrive. Some professors claimed that the language barrier encouraged many of the Middle Eastern students to cheat and other students claimed that the foreign students were more likely to drink and participate in other activities that many of the students (a large portion of whom come from Mormon backgrounds) took umbrage with. The students from the Middle East, on the other hand, reported that they faced discrimination not just in the city, but on campus, too, causing more than hundred to leave the university.


Over the last decade, reduced government funding and declining enrollment rates have led many institutions to start seeking out more and more foreign students, who sometimes pay up to three times what other students pay for the same education. Just about every private, second-tier university is now looking for ways to both cut their budget and invite more foreign students to study on their campuses. While there is no conclusive study of how many international students there are in the US right now or how much money they are paying to study there, it is estimate that there are at least a million students, contributing more than $30 billion to the US economy. The majority of students come from China, but the Middle East is still in top five zones sending their students to the US. However with the price of oil languishing where it is now at, we sincerely doubt that governments in the mid-east will be as eager to sponsor the education of it’s students outside their countries for much longer. So this is not going to be an ongoing problem.


While more and more students are coming from the Middle East to study in America, fewer are actually choosing ISU for their education. Some do cite the discrimination in the city of Pocatello as a reason for leaving, but others say that it is likely that many students are simply not satisfied with their education.


Back in 2007, when the first students from Saudi Arabia arrived in Pocatello, there were no major problems. Though the city is almost entirely Christian (you can still find a monument near the courthouse that features the Ten Commandments) and did not seem to be the ideal choice for the predominantly Muslim international students, most of whom came to study Engineering, the low living costs and stipend from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States actually made ISU a very attractive institution.


That might explain why several professors said Middle Eastern students seemed prone to cheating and plagiarism. Eighty percent to 90 percent of the cheating cases reported in recent semesters in engineering and science have involved foreign students, Dr. Rodgers said.



Some professors said that some of their peers would have difficulty taking on the extra work that was required to help international students who did not yet have a total grasp of English. Others said that they were not properly prepared for the program and lacked the necessary prerequisites that would have allowed them to succeed.


Many faculty were primarily concerned with the stress levels for the students, who have a very limited amount of time to take the classes they need and get their degrees. Those who failed a class would then have to make it up the next semester, in addition to taking the normal workload. A student who should be taking fifteen credits, for example, might be taking eighteen.


Reports from ISU claimed that of all of the instances of cheating and plagiarism in their classes in a given year, up to 90% of those instances could be attributed to the international students. The international students themselves shot back that they were being painted with broad strokes, and that while some students might have cheated, they certainly were not all cheaters. Accusations like these are one of the reasons that the very same students who would have told their friends to come to ISU three years ago are now telling them to look elsewhere in the US for an education.


The request for permission to build the mosque seemed to bring many of the issues on both sides of the line to a head. Now that the mosque is built and is packed each week for prayers, many leaders in the community and on campus are asking for students and Pocatello residents to reach out to and accept the international students.