How will new federal commitment on international education become concrete policy?

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What’s Next After the Joint Statement

The secretaries of State and Education beamed into last week’s EducationUSA Forum to announce a new national commitment to advancing international education.

“You can count on this administration to do anything it can to make your work easier,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told international educators. Miguel Cardona, the education secretary, called their efforts “vital.” 

The federal pledge of a “renewed focus” on international education is exciting for a field that has felt both overlooked and under siege in recent years. Yet, it should be seen as a starting point. What comes next?

A few thoughts…

The call for a coordinated approach should be encouraging to higher ed. The Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security also had input into the joint statement.

When it comes to international education, this sort of collaboration hasn’t always been the norm. In fact, I can recall times when different parts of the federal government took opposing stances, such as over the use of paid student-recruitment agents overseas.

But coming together to write a four-page statement is one thing; synchronizing policy is another. In the U.S., responsibility for policy affecting international education is spread across many parts of the government — not just those already mentioned but the Defense Department, scienfic funding agencies, USAID, and more. NAFSA proposed establishing a White House coordinating council for international education, but a big unknown of implementation is how coordination will happen.

Another… How will a high-level statement of principles take shape in policy? As I noted last week, the joint statement speaks in elevated language and contains no details about specific programs or funding commitments. 

But judging from my in-box, readers really want to know what a government focus on international education will mean for individual policies, practices, and areas of interest, from dual intent to green cards, exchange programs to international research funding. There will be attention to the positions the Biden administration takes and to the programs and policies it prioritizes and champions.

In his remarks, Blinken promised to work across the government as well as with stakeholders, in higher ed and the private sector. As the administration crafts its approach, how will it go about getting advice and feedback from those affected by international-education policy?

Not long after Blinken spoke, Stephanie Kelly of Community Colleges for International Development suggested a working group to advise the government, an idea seconded by many of her fellow speakers on an EducationUSA leadership panel. 

But the creation of such a group inevitably would lead to debates about who gets included — and international education has a wide variety of stakeholders. That can complicate getting the right voices to the table.

Finally, there are those who would say: Be careful what you wish for. While greater governmental attention to international education is welcome, a prescriptive policy agenda would not be.

Certainly, the Biden administration has not indicated a desire to micromanage international education. But would a top-down national strategy undercut American higher education’s global strength, its freedom to innovate?

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What’s Next for DACA

After a federal judge’s ruling against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, it may take a multipronged approach to aid young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

“Now is the time to do more,” said Miriam Feldblum, a co-founder and executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. 

I called up Feldblum to ask about next steps for colleges after U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen ruled DACA unlawful and blocked it from approving new applicants: 

Lobby Congress. The U.S. House passed a bill earlier this spring giving legal protections and a path to citizenship to DACA recipients and other young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers. But the Senate has yet to act, and a legislative path may be a rocky one — President Obama created DACA by executive order because of congressional inaction. 

Feldblum said there are two possible congressional options: A bipartisan group of senators is working on legislation. And DACA language could be included in the budget bill, where it wouldn’t be subject to a filibuster — although it could also run afoul of legislative rules. 

Colleges should encourage lawmakers to “act as expeditiously as possible by whatever means possible,” Feldblum said. Already, more than 400 university presidents, CEOs, and civic leaders have signed a letter calling on Congress to take action.

Work with the Biden administration. During the Trump administration, higher-ed groups like the Presidents’ Alliance frequently sought to block rules and other administrative action detrimental to international and undocumented students. Now, the regulatory process could be used to help such students.

The Biden administration has indicated it plans to issue new rules on DACA, although hasn’t said what approach it would take. Jose Magaña-Salgado, Feldblum’s colleague and the alliance’s director of policy and communications, said one possibility is that the administration could decouple DACA from work authorization, so losing one wouldn’t mean losing the other. Colleges should be prepared to comment and lobby on proposed rules.

File suit. The Biden administration plans to appeal Hanen’s ruling. But the Texas judge isn’t the only jurist to weigh in on the program — late last year, a federal judge in New York ordered the Trump administration to accept DACA applicants. The conflicting decisions could fast-track the cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Colleges may play a part of future litigation, possibly through friend-of-the-court briefs.

Change state policy. Some states prohibit undocumented students from receiving lower in-state tuition rates, while other define eligibility narrowly, freezing out many students.

Feldblum said colleges can urge their states to adopt policies that expand in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students or that allow graduates to obtain professional licensure regardless of immigration status. 

A higher-ed immigration portal put together by the Presidents’ Alliance and its partners has detailed information about current state-level policies.

Provide more campus support. Thousands of students were in the process of applying for DACA, with the expectation that it would make them eligible for in-state tuition in their home states. With the ruling, a college education may suddenly be unaffordable.

Colleges can work to find alternative sources of funding for such students. For example, colleges may be able to offer certain non-employment-based funding to students, such as practicums tied to the classroom. 

But financial assistance isn’t the only way colleges can help, said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, director of the Center for Immigrants’ Right Clinic at Penn State Law. Colleges should expand and better promote the support services they have for undocumented students, including legal and mental-health services. 

What’s your campus doing in response to the DACA ruling? Email me — you can use the same address to send me feedback, suggestions, and story ideas.

Around the Globe

Federal prosecutors will retry a former University of Tennessee researcher accused of hiding his ties to China. Anming Hu’s original trial ended in a mistrial.

A consent decree in a class-action lawsuit challenging delays in adjudicating Optional Practical Training commits the government to faster processing, monitors compliance, and grants international students temporary relief.

Sen. Alex Padilla of California is circulating a letter among senators asking the State Department to speed up student-visa processing, saying that it is a “critical” moment to get international students and scholars to the U.S. for fall.

International students are overwhelmingly willing to comply with quarantine and vaccine requirements in order to return to campus, according to an IDP Connect survey.

The U.S. government is expected to grant special relief to students from Haiti experiencing severe economic hardship, permitting them to work.

When top Chinese and American diplomats met last week, Chinese officials asked the U.S. to lift visa restrictions on some Chinese graduate students.

China is cracking down on the tutoring industry, including banning the hiring of foreign teachers who live overseas.

Some “cheating firms” are offering to take international students’ online classes, for a price.

At least three Hong Kong universities will make national security education compulsory for students.

The president of the University of Arkansas says a statue of J. William Fulbright, the father of the Fulbright Program, should remain on campus despite the late senator’s support for segregation.

American branch campuses are not paying off for Persian Gulf states, a new study says.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is warning of deteriorating university autonomy in Venezuela.

Colleges and state study consortia are eligible for Commerce Department grants for economic revitalization. 

And finally…

Much like a kid on Christmas Eve, I’m full of excitement and nervous anticipation before my new audio documentary is released tomorrow. The Chronicle of Higher Education and APM Reports teamed up to produce Fading Beacon, an examination of how the U.S. became a global beacon for students from around the globe — and what’s at stake if that signal dims.

You can hear the documentary on your local public-radio station or listen to it as a podcast on APM Report’s Educate feed or your favorite podcast app. And be sure to check out the accompanying feature on the Chronicle’s website. We found that if the U.S.cedes its place as the world leader in international education, it will affect diplomacy, the economy, and the health of colleges and universities nationwide. 

It’s been a privilege and great fun to collaborate over the past year with Sasha Aslanian, my co-reporter. We had support from so many people at both the Chronicle and APM Reports, but I want to give special thanks to Ben Clary for research help and to our extraordinary editors, Jenny Ruark and Catherine Winter.

Readers (and listeners), tell me what you think. As always, you can send me a message or share your comments on social media. I’m on Twitter and Linkedin.

’Til next week —Karin

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