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Trump Effect: College Applications from Foreign Students Down

Survey reveals that four in ten US colleges have experienced a decline in international applicants for the Fall 2017 term.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   16-03-2017
Thousands of students take part in a rally in Washington to protest President Trump's immigration policies.

President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant vitriol and policies are set to dampen enthusiasm for studying in America. A new survey reveals that four in ten US colleges have experienced a sharp decline in international applicants for the Fall 2017 term. Not surprisingly, Trump's travel ban and hard line immigration policies have put off students from the Middle East and Muslim majority countries. However, initial findings of the survey also point to a decline in applicants from India and China, which together provide nearly half of America's international students.

More than three-quarters of institutions surveyed expressed concern about future enrollment. "Nearly 40 percent of responding US institutions are reporting a drop in international student applications, particularly from students in the Middle East," showed the findings from a survey of 250 schools conducted in February by six higher-education groups, including the Institute of International Education (IIE).

Indeed, the most telling decline in applicants came from the Middle East, with universities reporting a 39 percent decrease in Middle Eastern undergraduate applications and a 31 percent decrease in graduate applications from the region.

Decline in Interest from India, China

However, the "domino effect" of Trump's travel ban against six Muslim-majority countries has not only led to a precipitous decline in international student enrolment from Muslim countries, but made students in India and China equally nervous about studying in the US.

According to the survey, 26 percent of universities reported a decline in undergraduate applications from India, in addition to a 15 percent decline in India’s graduate applications.

Meanwhile, a quarter of universities saw a drop in undergraduate applications from China, while 32 percent saw declines in Chinese graduate applications.

Those figures are a reversal of about a decade of steady increases in applications from international students, which pushed the number of international students studying in the US to over one million last year, according to the "Open Doors Report" published by the IIE. International students brought about $36 billion last year to the US economy and universities have become increasingly dependent on that revenue.

Neither universities nor the US government can afford to ignore these concerns. In the last year alone, Chinese students contributed $11 billion to the US economy, while Indian students contributed another $5 billion.

On an average, international students pay the full sticker price and wind up paying an extra $28,000 to $30,000 a year and help US colleges plug the budget gaps caused by reductions in state funding. Public schools often charge international students two to three times what domestic students pay, thereby subsidizing the cost of tuition for American students.

Worry About Safety, Stereotypes

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), one of the institutions conducting the survey, cited Trump's travel ban as a hard line anti-immigrant policy queering the pitch.

“For educational institutions in the United States, the negative effects of the ban will extend far beyond 90 days and well beyond the six countries involved,” said Nancy Beane, president of the NACAC.

Sure enough, while China and India are not directly influenced by the travel ban, their students remain conscious that President Trump's anti-immigrant policies are predicated on a hyper-territorial worldview in which immigrants are cast as job stealers. Many surveyed universities found that international students now view the US as less welcoming to individuals from other nations.

The political discourse surrounding foreign nationals under the Trump presidency has led to concerns about safety, stereotypes and cultural differences, among other issues. These concerns may deter international students from hopping on a plane and earning an American degree.

The survey provides a snapshot of foreign applications to US higher education institutions, but is by no means the complete picture. A final report will be published by March 30.

“It is an early indicator at best, and even the campuses themselves won’t know what their actual enrollment is until this fall,” Sharon Witherell, the director of public affairs at the Institute of International Education, told the "US News and World Report."

"Right now, they are reaching out to students who applied to let them know if they have been accepted, and to encourage the ones who were accepted to come here,” said Witherell. “They have to decide and then apply for visas, so it is too early to know what the effect for this year will be.”


Uttara Choudhury is a writer for Forbes India and The Wire. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.



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