International higher education

U.S. should ease, not restrict, access to its colleges by international students (essay)

My 6-year-old son, Zev, is obsessed with Russia. Not because of the interference in our recent presidential election, but simply because it looms so large on the world map that hangs in his bedroom. His kindergarten teacher tells us he won’t stop talking about Russia, and his favorite YouTube video is the classic SCTV skit “What Fits Into Russia,” in which host Feliks Dzerzhinsky fits Argentina, Australia and Texas into Russia, not even covering all of the “beauty” of the Ukraine! “So long, Lone Star State! You look like a tiny star set against the vast colossal sky of Mother Russia (maniacal laugh).”

Kids are impressionable. Just as Zev is blown away by the size of Mother Russia, millions of college-age kids around the world are blown away by the archetypal idea of American college, as developed and celebrated in American popular culture, and even more by our famous university brands. As a result, there are now over one million international students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities -- a figure that has doubled in 15 years.

If President Trump wants to put America first, and do so by promoting American products and American jobs, higher education is a huge opportunity. There are five million students at colleges and universities outside their home countries -- a number that’s projected to grow to eight million within a decade.

Although it may seem counterintuitive in this radically new policy environment where our borders appear to be closing, the answer lies at the intersection of prioritizing job creation and our new president -- a successful hotelier -- understanding the difference between students (guests) and immigrants.

In Australia, international students represent about 30 percent of total enrollment. In the U.K., it’s about 20 percent. Even Canada is at 11 percent. But the one million international students currently enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities represent only 5 percent of the total. And we are falling farther behind. In 2000, 23 percent of all international students were in the U.S. In 2012, it was only 16 percent. We are punching below our weight -- and way below our reputation.

The economic benefits of educating students from other countries are clear. NAFSA: the Association of International Educators estimates that three U.S. jobs are created or supported for every seven international students -- a total of 340,000 jobs in 2013-14. These jobs aren’t only for overeducated academics, but in sectors such as transportation, accommodation, food service, telecommunications, health care and insurance.

In the 2015-16 academic year, international students contributed approximately $33 billion to the U.S. economy. So if the U.S. were to serve as many international students proportionally as Canada, we would add more than 400,000 jobs. Doing as well as the U.K. would add 1.2 million new jobs. Reaching Australian levels would add two million new jobs -- greater potential than any of the other “export” industries being talked about. And we’d do even better than that if we took full advantage of our reputation as the global higher education leader.

While a handful of universities -- mostly in large, coastal urban areas -- have achieved 20 percent international as a percentage of total enrollment, only 5 percent of U.S. colleges and universities account for nearly 70 percent of all international enrollments; 95 percent of institutions have a lot of room for growth.

On a statewide basis, only a few have approached Canadian levels -- Washington, D.C., is at 15 percent, Massachusetts 13 percent, New York 10 percent, Washington 9 percent, Rhode Island 8 percent. Illinois, Connecticut and Hawaii are at 7 percent, and the rest of the country is at 6 percent or below, including large states with international reputation: California and Texas at 6 percent, Florida at 4 percent. And most of the Midwest and mountain states are at 3 percent. So while even Massachusetts could do better, there’s work to do if American colleges and universities are to compete more effectively for international students.


What are other countries doing that we’re not? In 2014, Canada released its first international education strategy, which, while vague, set a target of doubling its international student population within eight years, and allocated funding for marketing Canada as an international destination and for developing mobility strategies with large, emerging markets. Australia’s internationalization efforts are led by a minister of tourism who doubles as minister of international education. Australia has had many national strategies. The latest, published last year, sets out nine distinct objectives for recruiting more international students.

While these strategies (including New Zealand’s) involve marketing the country as a higher education destination and coordinating between English-language training programs and academic pathways, there are two key drivers.

The first is ease of getting a student visa, which includes simplicity of the process as well as wait time. The competition is focused on both. Last year, following complaints that Australia’s student visa system was so complex that colleges attending international education fairs spent “half their time explaining the visa system,” Australia rationalized its student visa process, reducing the number of subclasses and introducing a single risk framework under which all applicants will be assessed. The result is much simpler for students and international agents. And in Canada, when a recent increase in student visa applications led to waiting times that were “weeks longer than those in Britain and the United States,” the issue received national media attention.

The second driver is work opportunities during the academic program and postgraduation. In Canada, international students enrolled at colleges and universities are now permitted to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year and full time during scheduled breaks and, after graduating, stay and work in any field for up to three years. In Australia, students can stay and work for two to four years after graduating, without the need to secure separate work visas. And earlier this month, China announced that international students in master’s programs would be able to transition directly from school to work.

It may not be clear that allowing students to work in the U.S. is consistent with an “America first” approach. We’ve certainly struggled with this question more than the competition. In the U.S., international students can work up to 20 hours per week on campus. But in order to work off-campus they must apply separately to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service for Optional Practical Training. And we don’t make it easy: the work opportunity must be “directly related” to the student’s major; students must wait nine months after starting postsecondary programs; the application takes at least 90 days; and any work during study reduces allowable OPT postgraduation, which is capped at 12 months.

Moreover, recent changes have made it harder for international students to work. Whereas it was previously possible for students doing OPT in STEM-related professions to apply for 17-month extensions, a new rule implemented last year changed it to 24-month extensions but added a bevy of new rules for employers that will significantly reduce employment opportunities for international students: among them, employers must prove that the international student won’t replace a U.S. worker, and employers must provide 20 hours per week of training with strict monitoring.

It would be deliciously ironic if, while the U.K.’s new Brexit prime minister struggles with the question of whether international students should count against proposed immigration caps, our new “America first” president, who knows a thing or two about extending hospitality to guests, could set America on equal footing with Canada and Australia in terms of student visas and work opportunities for the express purpose of advancing the higher education sector and job creation. If the Trump administration truly cares about creating good jobs for American workers, it wouldn’t be inconsistent to take a harder line on refugees and illegal immigration while welcoming students who are likely to create jobs.

So why not allow students on F-1 visas to work in any field for one year postgraduation (without requiring a separate OPT application), and to continue on annually and indefinitely as long as they can demonstrate they’ve created at least one new good job for an American worker each year? Entrepreneurial efforts from talented international graduates could increase substantially, creating even more jobs than the additional jobs created in higher education and support sectors. President Trump understands that international students are guests who are footing the bill at big, beautiful Hotel America, but they should have the ability to become immigrants if they can demonstrate a material contribution to the American economy.


Kids only remain impressionable for so long. My guess is Zev will fall out of love with Russia reasonably soon -- perhaps during the upcoming Senate hearings. Likewise, given our current competitive disadvantages, international students’ love for American colleges and universities may only last for so long.

Millions of students and their families have plans to study in an English-speaking country. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have plans. Although the U.S. currently has no plan, when the new administration does announce a plan for Making American Higher Education Great Again, it must not only set growth targets, encourage all kinds of pathway programs for international students -- embedded, transfer and boarding schools -- and put government muscle and funding behind marketing these programs, but also recognize that in order to make America first in higher education, we need to open America’s doors.

Ryan Craig is managing director at University Ventures, a fund seeking to reimagine the future of higher education and creating new pathways from education to employment.

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How a Republican administration will influence international education (essay)

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, will be long remembered by those who cast a ballot for the 45th president of the United States. Donald Trump’s election has raised uncertainty and doubts about a reversal of globalization, as well as concerns about a continued commitment to diversity. With a conservative administration about to take office, it would appear that values counter to the international education field have prevailed.

And yet a look at historic Open Doors and other data from the Institute of International Education indicates that the prospects for international education should, in fact, look hopeful for some, while others will need to double down on their efforts. It’s worth analyzing the data to see what they say about the prospects for international education, specifically study abroad and international student enrollment.

Presidential Parties and Study Abroad

Consider first, the recent history of presidential administrations, along with the Institute for International Education’s Open Doors data. Looked at side by side, we can compare the number of students studying abroad from American colleges and universities with the party affiliations of the past two administrations.

While the data limit us to two recent presidents, a significant increase in study abroad students under the Bush administration from 2000-08 may be quite surprising. Yet during this time, study abroad numbers added more than twice as many students when compared to the Obama administration. Between 2008 and 2015, the number of students studying abroad rose from 260,327 to 313,415.

In comparison, IIE’s data on the number of Fulbright applications received also point to significant growth for faculty interested in overseas research during the George W. Bush administration. Between 2000 and 2008, the annual number of Fulbright applications received grew by 2,119, a 713 percent increase when viewed alongside the annual figures for 1993-2000, the Clinton administration. However, during the Obama administration, annual Fulbright applications received also continued to increase, nearly doubling from 6,703 in 2008-09 to 11,091 in 2014-15. This data set may be too small to draw conclusions, but it does provide food for thought and raises key questions applicable to the field. For example, with such an increase of faculty seeking to conduct overseas research, what factors contributed to a declining growth rate for students studying abroad during the Obama administration? Similarly, what more involved role can faculty play in motivating students to share a similar curiosity for global learning?

Presidential Parties and International Student Enrollment

On the other side of international education, what do the data tell us about international student populations? For international student recruitment, the Open Doors data go back as far as 1980-81. Combined with the study abroad data, this analysis leads us to a number of interesting potential trends and predictions.

Looking first at the net increase or decrease of international student enrollment over the past 36 years, the data alone do not shed much light. The number of international students coming to the United States to study has increased during each administration, with the notable exception for the years 2000-08. But when we look closely at the Obama administration, it is difficult not to recognize that international student enrollment increased by a significant 372,223 students -- a 390 percent increase from the prior Republican-led administration. By comparing the growth rates under different presidential administrations, it is clear that under Democratic presidents, the increase in international student enrollment is higher than under Republican administrations.

In addition, a comparison of Open Doors data on international student enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment in higher education in the United States is also significant. Under the two Democratic administrations included in the data -- the Clinton and Obama administrations -- international student enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment increased by 0.5 percent or greater from one administration to the next, rising to 5.1 percent of all American students enrolled in higher education in 2015-16. During the Clinton administration, between 1992 and 2000, international students made up 25 percent of the increase in total enrollment in colleges and universities in the United States. During the Obama administration, the estimated 372,223 international students studying at U.S. higher education institutions represent roughly 31 percent of the total enrollment increase.

Under Republican administrations, however, we see a very different trend. Between 1980 and 1992, and again between 2000 and 2008, international student enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment in American colleges and universities increased by no more than 2 percent. In fact, during the 2000-08 Bush administration, the percentage of international students enrolled compared to total higher education enrollment actually declined, even as total enrollment continued to rise significantly.

Furthermore, during Republican administrations, the data indicate that total enrollment in U.S. higher education increases at a far higher rate than under Democrat-led administrations. During the George H. W. Bush administration, between 1988 and 1992, for example, enrollment grew by 117 percent. During George W. Bush’s administration, from 2000 to 2008, that figure rose a staggering 867 percent. Notably, those increases were not due to an equal increase in the percentage of incoming international students. That percentage remained at or below 4.1 percent.

In contrast, Democratic administrations show a declining rate of growth for total enrollment in higher education in the United States. During the Clinton administration, between 1992 and 2000, total higher education enrollment increased by roughly 300,000, a 77 percent decline from the prior Bush administration. Similarly, during the Obama administration, the growth rate of total enrollment declined by 59 percent.

These findings, combined, lead to a significant correlation for the international education field: during Republican-led administrations, the rate of enrollment for U.S. domestic students increases much more, which is possibly one cause for the observed higher growth rate and corresponding number of students studying abroad.

Impact and Influence on International Education

As we look ahead, what can these data tell us about the next four or eight years under President-elect Trump’s Republican-led administration? More important, what might be the implications for the international education field?

First, if past trends hold, the future points to an increasing growth rate for total enrollment at American colleges and universities -- and possibly a significant increase. Between 2008 and 2016, 1.2 million additional students were enrolled at higher education institutions, bringing total enrollment to roughly 20.3 million. Under the incoming administration, that figure could reach 1.8 million more students or higher, assuming a growth rate of 50 percent under Trump’s administration. At the same time, international student enrollment as a percentage of that total will undoubtedly decline. Estimating how much it will decline is difficult, but based on past data, a forecast increase of 80,000 or fewer international students enrolling in American higher education institutions would be consistent with enrollment figures from 1992 to 2008. This would suggest that international students will account for an unchanged 5.1 percent of total enrollment in American higher education institutions.

In comparison, with an estimated 1.8 million more students enrolling in colleges and universities in the United States, the forecast for study abroad points to a tremendous potential for growth. Based on this estimate, the number of students studying abroad could potentially reach 2 percent of all enrolled students in the United States, which would equal an increase of over 130,000 students per year.

If such forecasts come to fruition, global initiative and international offices at American colleges and universities will need to strategically reflect on their allocation of resources. For example, how are admissions offices preparing to counter any negative effects of stable or even lower enrollment of international students? For education abroad offices, the number of students going to study overseas may be set to rise. Are adequate budgets being considered to cover the greater numbers of staff required, as well as the added responsibilities for study abroad advisers?

The Open Doors data clearly point to evidence that a Republican-led administration will play a significant role in influencing the international education community during the next four or eight years. Colleges and universities that are strategically prepared will be better positioned to accommodate the changing requirements of the field.

Bradley A. Feuling is the chairman and CEO of the Asia Institute, based in Shanghai. Over the past nine years, the Asia Institute has worked with more than 2,000 students and faculty members and has quickly become a leading host partner for many educational institutions in areas such as short-term programs, student recruitment, experiential learning, faculty exchange and career development.

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