College athletes may be able to get compensation — but not if they’re international students

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With a Supreme Court decision and new state laws, college athletes may be able to get compensation — but not if they’re international students. Also, Bard is blacklisted in Russia, and the Biden administration kills a controversial visa rule change.


International Students & Paying Athletes

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that the NCAA could not block certain education-related payments to student-athletes. And on Thursday, laws will take effect in a half-dozen states that will allow college athletes to earn money from endorsement deals, autographs, and appearances.

What does this have to do with international education? In the shift toward compensating college athletes — many experts think the Supreme Court may have signaled in its unanimous decision that it was open to a head-on challenge to the NCAA’s ban on paying students for their participation in sports — one group could be left behind: international students. 

That’s because visa rules prevent international students from making significant income while studying in the United States and restricts them to working on campus. (There is a narrow exception if the work is related to their academic study.) In fact, they must promise in their visa applications that they are only coming to the United States for an education, not for employment.

As a result, international students can can work in the dining hall or campus bookstore — but wouldn’t be permitted to profit from their “name, image, and likeness” by appearing at a soccer clinic or autograph signing, as the new laws allow. Federal immigration law supersedes state legislation, Elizabeth Goss, an immigration attorney, told me.

“This one group of student-athletes will have to be treated differently than the others,” she said.

According to NCAA data, almost 13 percent of Division I athletes and 7 percent of those who compete in Division II were from overseas in 2019, and international-student participation in U.S. college sports has increased in recent years.

In some marquee college sports, international athletes are rare — less than 1 percent of Division I football players are foreign students. But 17 percent of men’s college basketball players come from abroad. And in some sports, they’re plentiful. More than a third of men’s and close to half of women’s hockey players hail from another country, as do 60 percent of tennis players.

Still, a recent ESPN article makes it clear that, despite their presence, international students were given little thought it the crafting of the so-called NIL laws. “That’s a good question,” the sponsor of one of the bills said when ESPN asked about the foreign-student wrinkle.

College officials said they were unsure of how handle the issue. A NAFSA resource page on international students and college sports warns, “Absent clarification from DHS, schools and international student athletes should approach NIL questions with caution.” An athletics administrator at Florida State told ESPN that the university has discussed the impact of that state’s new law on international students but is waiting for government guidance.

Goss said one solution could be for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to update its student-visa rules to redefine campus work to include compensation to international student-athletes. That could be done without new regulations, she said, noting that Student and Exchange Visitor Program had sent a broadcast message to colleges after the Supreme Court ruling indicating the government was aware of the problem.

“It’s low-hanging fruit, and it could be popular,” Goss said. “It’s not like it could be criticized as taking jobs away from American workers — a star athlete is a star athlete.”

Congress could also address the issue as part of legislation allowing college athletes to make money from their fame.

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Proposed Visa Change Officially Dead

The U.S. government has formally withdrawn a rule that would have set strict time limits on student visas.

The measure was proposed last fall by the Trump administration, which argued that new restrictions were needed to prevent visa overstays. It would have placed four-year caps on visas, requiring students who did not finish their studies during that time to re-apply to stay in the U.S. longer. Extensions were to be granted on academic, medical, and other grounds.

Students from countries with high overstay rates would have faced tighter caps, of just two years.

Students and colleges opposed the measure, saying that it would add unnecessary uncertainty by forcing students to apply to degree programs without knowing if they would be able to complete their studies. Higher-ed officials also objected to putting the government, which would have approved extensions, in charge of academic decisionmaking. And there were questions about whether international-student overstay rates were a problem in the first place.

President Trump lost the election before rulemaking was complete, but it wasn’t until this month that the Biden administration officially pulled the regulation. Instead, the current system will remain in place. It allows most students — with some exceptions based on country of origin and program of study — to stay in the U.S. until they complete their studies.

Bard Banned in Russia

The Russian government abruptly designated Bard College an “undesirable” organization, halting its activity in the country and putting anyone who works with the institution at risk of fines or imprisonment.

“I’m heartbroken,” Bard’s longtime president Leon Botstein said when I reached him by phone last Tuesday, the day after the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office made its announcement. “It’s shocking, and it’s wildly wrongheaded.”

Bard has worked in Russia for more than two decades, collaborating with St. Petersburg State University to open a liberal-arts college, where it offered a joint degree. It was part of Bard’s unusual mission to spread liberal-arts education around the globe, focusing on difficult places like Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and the Palestinian territories.

As it happens, Bard’s expulsion coincided with the publication of another piece I wrote, a look at how political tensions and nationalism increasingly complicate American universities’ global engagement. If navigating the current geopolitics requires the deftness of a diplomat, I asked, do colleges need a foreign policy? 

The conclusion: Perhaps, but it’s tough and complex work. In the end, former NYU President John Sexton told me, what colleges may need most is a set of principles to guide them — know yourself and know your partner. 

That sparked a thoughtful email from Robert Quinn, the executive director of Scholars at Risk, who wrote me, in part:

That’s good advice, but missing the main point of tension. It implies bilateral relations, but the places where these issues come up are almost always trilateral (self, partner, STATE) or multilateral (self, partner, state, and nonstate). The tension rarely comes from the partner, almost always from the state or nonstate, and the partner has little direct authority. I think the “foreign policy” metaphor is most apt when we don’t think of the universities as nation-states, but rather as cities within states. Cities may have their own “foreign policies” of a sort, and mayors of two cities — Shanghai and NYC, for example — can make partnerships and plans. These can sometimes be quite effective — think Bloomberg and climate — but they are always at the mercy of the state-level forces. The “foreign policy” of the city/university must take this into account if it is to successfully protect academic freedom and other core values, not to mention the institution’s investment and reputation. 

I want your feedback, too. Email me your thoughts and story ideas or weigh in on social media. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Around the Globe

More than 150 colleges have signed onto an amicius brief in support of Optional Practical Training, which is facing a legal challenge from U.S. technology workers who say international students are taking jobs from Americans.

A bill introduced by a Republican congressman would limit OPT to six months.

A state budget bill would limit the number of international and out-of-state students at the University of California’s campuses in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego to make way for more state residents.

A juror in the case of Anming Hu, accused by prosecutors of hiding his ties to China, was so upset at the government’s treatment of the former University of Tennessee scientist that she donated to a GoFundMe to help pay his legal fees. His case ended in a mistrial.

Four in 10 China scholars, journalists, and diplomats surveyed by ChinaFile said they probably or definitely not return to China when Covid-19 restrictions lifted.

The murder of a campus Communist Party secretary in Shanghai may have been related to tenure.

An American student studying in Russia was abducted and killed.

Younger Indian students are more bullish on the U.S., while their older counterparts may consider multiple international-study destinations, according to new research from Intead.

Short-term mobility programs can still have a professional and personal impact on participants, a study from Universities UK shows.

A new podcast from the Institute of International Education focuses on alumni of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellows program.

Graduate students and early-career academics working across borders can apply for the Millennium Scholars Program.

And finally…

The exhibit’s name: “Uglier and Uglier.”

It featured grainy clips of 5,000 Chinese college students, filmed on campus without their permission, then ranked by the artist based on how attractive he found them. When the nearly eight-hour film was first exhibited eight years ago in Beijing, there was little pushback. Not so this time, a reflection of how feminism and the #MeToo movement have changed China.

’Til next time —Karin

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