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Professional Opinion

Trump travel ban may affect international enrollment

Colleges and universities fear loss of diversity and revenue
University Business, June 2017
Rahul Choudaha is a higher ed consultant and CEO of DrEducation.
Rahul Choudaha is a higher ed consultant and CEO of DrEducation.

The current anti-immigrant rhetoric in the U.S. has collided with the economic challenges of source countries, creating a perfect storm for international student enrollment.

Many institutions that have benefited from the rising demand from key source countries such as China, India and Saudi Arabia, will be the first to lose in the possible decline in international student enrollment for 2017-18.

A conservative estimate shows that a decline of just 5 percent in new international student enrollment can result in a direct loss of $250 million in tuition and fees for U.S. higher education institutions in one year alone. This can have some serious implications on the financial sustainability of the universities.

The dramatic financial impact indicates that institutions must move toward more informed strategies, rather than merely react to the external changes.

Over the next few years institutions must prepare for an environment of hypercompetition and turbulence. Institutions that are not perceived to be among the elite, for example, or that are in unpopular destinations, will be the first to experience international enrollment declines.

Going forward, institutions must innovate to grow international student enrollment and provide the support services that advance student success.

Given the proposed immigration barriers, colleges may also have to find new ways of reaching international students through technology and cross-border modes of delivering education. In addition, institutions have to find more effective ways of meeting career expectations of international students, whether in the U.S. or in their home countries.

Facing reality

While the diversity and quality of the American higher education system are unparalleled in the world, the political environment is diminishing the attractiveness of the destination. The fundamentals of American universities and colleges are strong, and many of them recognize the importance of hosting international students on their campuses.

Many institutions are concerned that anti-immigration rhetoric will dampen students’ aspirations for finding work opportunities through optional practical training and H-1B visas.

The majority of international students aspire to study in the U.S. not just for learning experiences but also for life and for career opportunities. Often international students aim to recover a part of their high investments in studying in the U.S. by gaining work experiences before returning home.

President Trump’s executive order on immigration (currently blocked by a federal judge) asks for “reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”

This will likely raise the minimum salary threshold for becoming eligible for an H-1B visa. Given that a majority of international students come here with little or no work experience, they usually start with roles offering lower salaries than mid-career professionals.

The direction of government policy does not favor attracting and retaining global talent. International student pathway programs remain one of the most effective ways of bringing that talent to this country.

Future policies must ensure that American higher education continues to command the leadership of the most preferred destination for the talent around the world.


Rahul Choudaha is a higher ed consultant and CEO of DrEducation.

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