How the public sees international students

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What you need to know about a public-opinion survey on international students. Also, new research on crowding out, and the Biden administration extends emergency aid to international and undocumented students.


Mixed Signals

If you took a look at a just-released survey on public attitudes toward international students, you could be forgiven for experiencing some confusion. 

According to the American Council on Education survey, Americans think international students are better prepared for college than their domestic classmates but also that they take their seats. Those surveyed support proposals to retain talented foreign-born graduates but don’t want to make it easier for them to study here in the first place. Respondents have generally favorable opinions of international students — but believe they might have been sent to the U.S. to poach American ideas and innovation.

Mixed signals aside, here are a few key takeaways from the survey of 1,000 registered voters, which was conducted in February:

The Trump administration may have been antagonistic toward international students, but the public wasn’t buying it. In fact, on a number of metrics, perceptions of international students improved over the past four years. When the survey was first conducted, in March 2017, 60 percent of respondents said that American college students benefited from close and regular contact with students from other countries; today, 68 percent of those surveyed said they do.

Over the same period, the share of respondents agreeing with the statement that the United States should encourage international enrollments in order to strengthen the economy and enhance American competitiveness has increased over time, from 50 percent to 55 percent.

Washington’s concerns about U.S. higher ed’s vulnerability to foreign influence and academic espionage are echoed by the general public — and that’s affecting how Americans view international students. A sizable majority of respondents said they fear that international students have motives to come here beyond earning a degree. Four in 10 of those surveyed said they believe that some international students are sent here by their governments to try to steal valuable American intellectual property. When the question was asked specifically about Chinese students, nearly half said this was a widespread problem.

Getting to know international students might make a difference. I was struck reading through the results by the variation in responses to questions that asked the public to weigh in on international students in a more-abstract way and ones that likely reflect first-hand experience and observation. For example, those surveyed are divided about security screening for visas and don’t understand the ways in which international students’ tuition often helps subsidize the costs of college for Americans. But they know international students are smart, believe they help expand their children’s horizons, and see how they contribute to the economy and the workforce.

In a report accompanying the findings, ACE’s Sarah Spreitzer and Robin Matross Helms suggest seeking opportunities for international students to get to know the local community, through host families, volunteering with community groups, and speaking at public schools. “Reinforce the public’s impression,” they write, “that international students make meaningful, multifaceted, and sustained contributions to their campuses and communities.” Could more personal interaction further sway public opinion?

To read more on the ACE survey, check out my article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Free registration is required.)

Tell me what you think. You can email me feedback and tips. Or connect on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Contradicting Crowding Out

Between 2005 and 2016, international enrollments in U.S. higher education nearly doubled. But that didn’t mean fewer spots for Americans, a new working paper shows.

Rather than pushing out domestic students, the rise in international students actually led public universities to increase seats for in-state students and to graduate more domestic students, Princeton researcher Mingyu Chen finds. On average, for every one additional international undergraduate enrolled, in-state freshman enrollment increased by two, and the number of domestic students graduating in six years increased by 1.4.

Chen also found that growth in international enrollments was tied to lower tuition prices for local students. For every 10 additional international students, the listed price for in-state students decreased by 0.4 log points. Public research universities with more international students experienced drops in state appropriations, however. 

Finally, Chen took a look at the impact of international students on admissions standards, as reflected in SAT scores. International-enrollment increases resulted in improved math SAT scores for the top quartile of the freshman class and did not change the bottom SAT quartiles for either math or verbal.

Want to dive deeper into the data that informed Chen’s paper? Explore Project ADVISE (Analytics and Data Visualization for International Student and Education), which contains estimates of international students’ financial contributions in the U.S. at the national, state, and institutional level and by degree type, program, and place of origin.

Read more about the crowding-out myth.

Covid Aid Eligibility Expanded

The Biden administration has broadened eligibility for emergency Covid aid to international and undocumented students, reversing a Trump-era policy that excluded them from receiving stimulus funding.

Congress didn’t specify eligibility when it first approved pandemic relief grants for students and colleges, but the U.S. Department of Education, under former Secretary Betsy DeVos, later narrowed the pool, saying only students who qualified for federal financial aid could receive support. That excluded international and undocumented students, as well as those who had defaulted on student loans or had minor drug convictions. Colleges sued to challenge the policy.

Under the new rule, all students who are or were enrolled in college during the pandemic can receive emergency aid.

“The pandemic didn’t discriminate,” said Miguel Cardona, the current education secretary. “We want to make sure that all students have an opportunity to have access to funds to help them get back on track.” 

While the stereotype of international students is that they are wealthy, many have struggled to pay their bills during the pandemic. Visa regulations prohibit foreign students from working off campus, and some forfeited expected income from summer jobs when they were unable to travel home. Colleges across the country set up special emergency funds to help international and undocumented students cover rent, groceries, and other expenses. 

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Around the Globe

Some American colleges have said they will accept vaccines approved by the World Health Organization as part of vaccine mandates after the WHO authorized the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine.

The State Department updated its national-interest exemption to include language about continuing students and those on OPT.

A Rwandan diplomat allegedly spied on a Texas university class discussion about an imprisoned critic of the country’s president.

More than 11,000 professors and other university staff have been suspended after going on strike to protest military rule in Myanmar.

Confucius Institutes in Australia face closure under new powers that allow the government to veto universities’ foreign partnerships.

Canada’s new pathway to residency for international graduates reached its application limit in just over a day. 

A free speech bill to be introduced in the British Parliament would allow individuals to sue universities and student unions if they suffer a “personal loss” because of the institution’s failure to protect free speech.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman mockingly suggested that the FBI could hire 300,000 agents to monitor Chinese students while reducing unemployment rates.

This podcast takes a look at racial and ethnic profiling in the Department of Justice’s China Initiative.

A former Ohio State researcher was sentenced to 37 months in prison for hiding his plans to use $4.1 million in federal grants to help develop Chinese expertise in rheumatology and immunology.

The Armenian government is pressing ahead with efforts to take over several university boards.

NAFSA is accepting applications for its RISE (Representation, Inclusion, Support, and Empowerment) fellowship.

And finally…

Forget about bloodhounds. Apparently, bees can be trained to sniff out the virus that causes Covid-19. Scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands said that bees, like dogs, are extremely sensitive to the metabolic changes in an infected body that cause a smell and could detect the odor in minutes. The researchers trained the bees to stick out their tongues when the virus was present.

The researchers hope that the method could be an effective diagnostic tool in low-income countries that can’t afford costly tests in large numbers.

’Til next time —Karin

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