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'Trump effect' means fewer international students at US colleges

According to a survey by five major higher education groups, nearly 40 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities are experiencing a substantial drop in applications from international students. Why? In part, it's "concerns about the Trump effect" -- a sense that Americans are demonstrating negative attitudes about immigrants in general, regardless of their individual characteristics or contributions to society.

The problem is more than a sense of being unwanted, of course. President Trump's travel ban is having a negative effect on many immigrants even outside the six nations targeted by the ban, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In fact, one of the four main concerns cited in the survey was a perception that more student visas are being denied by U.S. embassies and consulates in China, India and Nepal. China and India are the two largest sources of international students to the U.S.

The other three main concerns admissions officers have heard from potential applicants were:

  • A perception of a less welcoming climate in the U.S. toward people from other countries
  • A concern that the rules surrounding travel, re-entry and employment might change after the student has committed to come to the U.S.
  • The concern that Trump's travel ban might be expanded to additional countries

Last year, the number of international students in U.S. topped one million for the first time, but they still make up just 5 percent of all students in U.S. higher education programs. In fact, more American students study abroad than come to the U.S. for education opportunities. And, while there has been strong growth in interest in STEM fields by both native- and foreign-born students, the U.S. still relies on international students to fill crucial roles in research, development and technology.

The final enrollment numbers are not yet in; that will have to wait until the end of this spring's admissions process. The researchers plan to follow up at that time. However, one university's executive director of global education initiatives thinks the worst is yet to come.

"From what I've been hearing, it's going to be more challenging after this fall cycle," she said. But if "the tightening of immigration policies and the chilling of the overall attitudes towards international and professional students and immigrants" continues, "the real hit is going to be next year."

Researchers received responses from over 250 U.S. colleges and universities to the survey, which was a joint effort of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the Institute of International Education, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the International Association for College Admission Counseling and the Association of International Educators.

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