Drop in International Student Applications Following Election of President Trump

President Trump was inaugurated fewer than 100 days ago, yet the attitudes, rhetoric, and policies of his Administration have already ushered in a distinct shift to the national mood, especially with regard to U.S. immigration policies. Since taking office, Trump has issued a number of immigration-related executive orders, including two travel bans that apply to a number of Muslim-majority countries. While the travel bans have both been blocked by federal courts, the proverbial ‘welcome mat’ the United States has historically laid out for immigrants appears to have transformed into a barbed wire fence. And a new survey conducted by several higher education groups suggests that immigrants are reacting to this fear by rejecting our colleges and universities.

The survey was conducted by six higher education groups and includes data from 250 colleges and universities. It reveals that four-in-ten institutions of higher learning in the United States will have experienced declines in international applicants for the fall 2017 term. The most significant decline is in applicants from the Middle East. The survey shows a 39 percent decrease in Middle Eastern undergraduate applications and a 31 percent decrease in graduate applications. And while the survey does not prove there is a causation between the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and the drop in applications, many college administrators are concerned that there is indeed a link and that international students are choosing to pursue their higher education outside the U.S. because they no longer feel safe, welcomed, and included on our campuses.

“The rhetoric and actual executive orders are definitely having a chilling effect on decisions by current applicants / admitted students, and by extension are likely to affect future applicants as well,” warned Portland State’s President Wim Wiewel, in a letter to Inside Higher Ed., Walter Caffey, the vice president for enrollment management at the University of New Haven, says that feeling safe and secure on campus is a newfound concern for potential international applicants. “There’s a larger concern about feeling welcome studying here in the states,” he explained in an interview with The Atlantic, adding that higher learning institutions in Australia and the U.K. have become appealing alternatives to colleges in the U.S. [See A Pause in International Students? by Aria Bendix, The Atlantic, 13.Mar.2017]

Talented, hardworking immigrants who have come to our shores to advance their studies have always added immense value to the economic and global standing of the U.S. Without highly skilled and educated immigrants to fill the demanding jobs in the thriving U.S. tech industry, where employees must be well versed in a diverse array of STEM related skills, we may lose ground in tech innovation to competing nations. To push international students away with an atmosphere of xenophobic fear and suspicion would be antipodal to our nation’s identity as a place where anyone can come here to work hard, contribute, and achieve the American dream.


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