How have recent changes in U.S. immigration policy affected the number of non-U.S. students who are applying to study at American universities?

According to “International Enrollments: From Flat to Way Down,” an article that Elizabeth Redden published in Inside Higher Ed on September 5, 2017, some of the changes should have been relatively easy to predict. Student applications and enrollments are down from the Muslim-majority countries targeted by President Trump’s immigration ban. Yet other changes in applications and enrollments are more difficult to understand. For example, data that Ms. Redden gathered from about two dozen American universities showed that enrollments are also falling from India and China, two countries that, in theory, should not have been affected by the ban. What is the reason for that? Ms. Redden does not offer an opinion, but it seems logical to ascribe those changes to an increased level of anxiety among non-U.S. students about attending American universities.

Other trends are notable, including the fact that at the time Ms. Redden wrote her article, 38 percent of American institutions were reporting a decrease in international applications, 35 percent were reporting an increase, and 27 percent were reporting no change. Furthermore, more prestigious American institutions, as you might have expected, are seeing less of a decrease in international applications and enrollments.

Less-than-Obvious Questions to Ask

Ms. Redden does not ask the following questions about what those changes mean for American higher education. But from our point of view, they seem like obvious questions to ask . . .

  1. What will the effect be on American students who are studying technology? As we know, many foreign students have traditionally come to universities in the U.S. to earn degrees in engineering, computer science, and other STEM majors. If their numbers decrease, what will the effect be on U.S.-born students who wish to pursue those majors? How will programs of study change? Will the opportunities for U.S.-born students increase or decrease in those majors?
  2. What will the effect be on the job market for students who have majored in technology? Will more Indian and Chinese students who have studied here decide not to enter the U.S. workforce, choosing instead to return to their countries of birth? And if that happens, will that create more job opportunities here for U.S.-born students?
  3. What will the effect be on less prestigious American institutions of higher learning? Will a shrinking number of foreign students cause extreme hardship among American colleges and universities that have traditionally attracted large numbers of foreign students? It seems likely, but time will tell.
  4. Will community colleges revamp their curricula to better prepare students for jobs in technical fields? Again, we don’t know. But if fewer four-year universities and postgraduate programs continue to prepare grads for tech jobs, will community colleges, and possibly technical high schools, jump in to take up the slack?

We are not saying that those questions point to things that are about to happen. We are only posing questions that seem logical to ask, given the changes in foreign student enrollments. What will happen in the months and years to come? We do not know. But we are certain that you will join us as we watch closely.

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