Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is already hurting US higher education
David Steele-figueredo, president, Woodbury University in Burbank, California
International student enrolments have been a major boost to the US economy in recent years and have been crucial to ensuring the financial stability of many universities.
According to a 2017 report by the Institute of International Education, there were 1.08 million international students studying in the US in 2016-17, marking the 11th straight year of growth. As domestic enrolment continues to decline, this boom in international student enrolment has been particularly important.
International students also contributed $36.9 billion (£25.9 billion) in economic activity in the US in 2016-17, supporting more than 450,000 jobs, according to international education trade association Nafsa.
The number of international students, however, started to flatten in 2016. And in many states it is on the decline.
Moreover, new enrolment data support the notion that the current administration’s proposed travel ban and the rhetoric behind it are contributing to the downward trend. A preliminary survey of 500 colleges and universities by the IIE estimated an average 7 per cent decline in autumn 2017, with nearly half the campuses reporting declines.
It is only recently, however, that our nation has focused on these dual negative trends in both domestic and international enrolments in higher education.
The current administration’s policies on immigration (particularly when it comes to approval of visas) have made it more challenging to be an international student – or prospective international student – at educational institutions across our nation. And future enforcement measures that may follow, as well as the anti-immigrant rhetoric in Washington DC in general, have created a climate of fear. Thus, this political uncertainty coupled with the increased competition abroad is likely to further reduce international demand for US education.
This is even more problematic given the fact that more than half the foreign-born founders of US technology companies originally came to the US to study engineering and computer science. Foreign nationals already account for more than half of all US doctoral degrees. This additional “bonus” has not been factored into our nation’s political dialogue and the potential future loss to our economy.
As the president of a small, private, non-profit university in California, Woodbury University is fortunate to continue to attract a high number of international students – some 24 per cent of students.
Apart from the financial benefits, gender and ethnic diversity provides a fundamental benefit to a university education in the US, with the social impact of international students invaluable in this regard. The culture of college campuses has been strengthened by their diversity of opinion and innovative spirit.
Thus, our higher education system has to put in place processes to continue to attract international students, ranging from more aggressive international recruiting practices, including international scholarships, to improving international student support services.
It is critically important to provide a welcoming and supportive campus climate for these students who may have travelled – far less lived – abroad for the first time.