This is a challenging time in which to be an international student ― or a prospective student ― at an American college or university.
The backdrop of the Trump Administration’s latest immigration Executive Order is now also the foreground for a great many students on our campus, and at educational institutions across the nation. Apart from the language of the order itself, and the enforcement measures that may follow, the order brings many of us into uncharted territory.
The Executive Order, which was originally scheduled to go into effect on March 16, calls for suspending immigration into the United States from six predominantly Muslim countries. Citizens from the affected countries — Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya — would be subject to a 90-day ban on travel to the United States. The order does not revoke existing visas approved before that date and does not explicitly apply to current lawful permanent residents and green card holders.
At the time of the first Executive Order in late January, I conveyed to the Woodbury University community my assessment that the overall impact was unclear for many of us in higher education. We regard all of our international students, especially those from the countries identified in the executive order, as a welcome and valued part of our community. Our university is strengthened by the talent, insight and culture that international students, faculty and staff bring to our campuses. We encouraged them to reach out to our international student advisor, their faculty advisors, counselors, or any of the many caring people at Woodbury who are here to provide support and help them achieve academic excellence.
As we follow developments to determine the impact this new Executive Order will have at Woodbury, our Student Affairs Office, Academic Affairs Office, Office of the President and others continue to work to connect with students, faculty and staff from all international countries to ensure we’re offering support. In the meantime, we have strongly recommended that our faculty, staff and students who are from the targeted countries avoid international travel until further notice.
It’s clearer than ever that no campus is an island. Diversity is fundamental to the American educational experience. As George Mason University President Angel Cabrera recently wrote in The Washington Post, “all six Nobel Prize winners in the United States last year were immigrants, as were 40 percent of all American Nobel recipients in physics, chemistry, medicine and physiology since 2000. Microsoft is led by an Indian, as is Google, which was co-founded by a Russian. Tesla is the creation of a South African who’s now also revolutionizing space aircraft. The online shopping company eBay was started by a French national of Iranian descent, and the iPhone was designed by a Brit. Immigrants or their children started more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, according to the Kauffman Foundation, and more than 50 percent of billion dollar-plus startups had at least one foreign-born founder.” According to a 2007 study from Duke University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Kauffman Foundation, more than half of the foreign-born founders of American technology companies originally came to the U.S. to study. In engineering and computer science, foreign nationals already account for more than half of all doctoral degrees granted in America.
Let’s drill down a bit. During the 2015-16 academic year, nearly 16,000 students and in excess of 2,000 scholars from the six targeted countries studied and conducted research at U.S. universities, Inside Higher Ed reports, and adds: “The pipeline of new students and scholars from those countries ― many of whom are in the midst of the college application process ― is now cut off.”
On a broader level, the contribution of international students is incontrovertible. According to the Institute of International Education, some 314,000 U.S. students studied abroad during the 2014–2015 academic year; the following year, more than one million foreign students studied in the U.S. – almost double the 2008 figure. NAFSA, an international education trade association, estimates that in 2015–2016, foreign students accounted for $32.8 billion in economic activity in the U.S., supporting more than 400,000 jobs.
New data appears to support the notion that the travel ban and the rhetoric behind it are having an effect. Applications from international students in countries such as China, India and especially those in the Middle East, are down this year at nearly 40 percent of schools that answered a recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
According to the Inside Higher Ed article, six trade groups, including the Institute of International Education and NAFSA, surveyed 250 colleges and universities earlier this year to determine the status of applications from foreign students and found declines from the same regions. “Among the reasons cited: ‘Perception that the climate in the U.S. is now less welcoming to individuals from other countries’; ‘Concerns that benefits and restrictions around visas could change, especially around the ability to travel, re-entry after travel, and employment opportunities’; and ‘Concerns that the Executive Order travel ban might expand to include additional countries.’”
Press reports indicate that colleges and universities across the country – from the University of Minnesota and Dartmouth to USC and UCLA ― are dedicating resources to countering the revised Executive Order, most recently by establishing “immigration response” teams, and creating “emergency funds” to cover travel and legal expenses for affected students.
For our part, the welcome mat remains out at Woodbury University. According to the 2016 U.S. News & World Report rankings, Woodbury had the second highest percentage of international students ― 25 percent ― among its 93 Western regional peers and the highest in California. The rankings affirmed our strategic focus on cultural diversity and inclusion. Nothing about that is going to change.
David Steele-Figueredo, Ph.D., is President of Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif.