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“I have been accepted to graduate school in the U.S. but cannot get a visa.”

“I want to study abroad in the U.S., but the embassy will not give me a visa.”

“Can you help our Model United Nations team get their visas to New York? We have never had this problem before.”

Emails such as these come to me with unsettling regularity. Having returned from Africa last year, where I spent seven years as president of the American University of Nigeria, I still hear from former students and faculty members throughout West and East Africa. They tell of roadblocks to their study in the United States, and their tone is one of increasing desperation.

This summer, while I was traveling in Rwanda and Kenya, a young person told me, “I have been saving my money to come study in the United States, but I’m not coming now. It is too hard to get in, and I don’t think I will be treated well.”

In many cases, I am still able to help students by connecting them with U.S. government officials who can provide guidance, or ease concerns about American culture through conversations about what’s happening on my campus. Still, I worry about all the others -- the promising young international students from Africa and other parts of the world with no American contacts or connections to help them.

As the president of an American college founded on the principles of revolutionary thinking -- and as someone who has seen and experienced the power of international education throughout a decades-long career in higher education -- I cannot be complacent about the fate of those students. None of us should be.

International student enrollment is vital to our colleges, to the education of U.S. students and to our nation. These students enrich our communities through their distinct cultures and often offer a different perspective on issues in the classroom. In addition, they contribute about $40 billion to the U.S. economy.

We must get our graduate students ready to take on the challenges of living and working in a globalized world. To do that, we must bring students together so that they can learn to communicate across difference and solve problems together. If you don’t think that’s important, think again.

Environmental challenges are global challenges. Our scientific research is multinational. Our politics are inextricably linked to the successes, failures and threats of foreign governments. The internet recognizes no borders. And populations are mobile to an unprecedented degree.

Bringing the world to our campuses -- and sending our students out into that world -- is a necessity. Failing to provide international perspectives for students does them a disservice.

At Dickinson College, we have a long history of sending our students abroad, and we have doubled our international student population in the last five years. We recently developed innovative outreach to students from less-served areas of the globe, and we also are increasing the diversity of our U.S. student population.

Our new Bridge Program, launched just this year to prepare students to be ready for a college experience, makes higher education available to students whose education has been interrupted by war or natural disaster. It was launched with the admission of four students who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The reciprocal learning that takes place between domestic and international students adds incalculable value to degrees, careers and lives. We must do everything in our power to ensure international students have both a smooth path to studying in the U.S. and that their time with us is meaningful for all students.

Given the conflicts roiling the globe, often driven by a lack of understanding and respect, the international bridges being built on our campuses are imperative to the future of our democratic society.

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