The 2024 race for president has the whole world watching who will lead one of the world’s largest economies. One group of people watching this closely are international students considering American universities.

In the 2023-24 academic year, more than 1 million international students were enrolled in U.S. schools. 

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are a draw for some because perception of these schools is powerful according to Marybeth Gasman, associate dean for research in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University and author of “The Power of Black Colleges.”

Gasman reflected on how different administrations may have progressively impacted international student enrollment through increased publicity. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What have been the general perceptions of HBCUs and how would you say they have changed over time recently? 

Gasman: I think the general perception of international students has been strong. I’d say beyond that, there were lots of people who didn’t know what an HBCU was, and, didn’t pay attention to it and might have had derogatory ideas or derogatory thoughts. And so the reputation, the contributions, the talent of HBCUs is being celebrated in ways that it wasn’t before. I’m hoping that people will continue to take notice of what HBCUs need, how they contribute, and just the power of them. 

What factors have contributed to recent ebbs and flows of international student enrollment? 

Gasman: During COVID, you had the numbers dropped completely. But you also had a drop because of xenophobia and other types of racism. But with regard to HBCUs, of course, they’re going to end up being in a similar situation where when the federal government shuts down entry for international students, they’re not going to be able to get any international students either. 

I’ve seen a large increase in activity to bring in more international students. But politics definitely plays a role. I noticed especially under the Biden administration, but also under (President Barack) Obama, there was this effort to really embrace bringing in a more international student body. 

How have administrations differed in ensuring that international students? 

Gasman: So, the Biden administration has been very progressive on a lot of student issues. And of course, with Kamala Harris as the vice president, and I don’t think people give her enough credit, HBCUs are always right there in Joe Biden’s face, every single day. Kamala Harris is an HBCU grad, right next to him. And so I think that that has really helped to elevate HBCUs. And also make sure that the variety of different kinds of issues that are important are addressed. 

How are HBCUs uniquely positioned to attract international students? 

Gasman: Majority institutions have more support systems, services for international students. That’s because they have more resources. So they have more monetary support and structural support. HBCUs have more social support. They operate in this sort of familial way. And I think that helps immensely, especially if you’re coming, and you don’t know anyone, and you’re coming into a new campus. HBCUs have a way of really helping people to feel welcome.

What is one thing that HBCUs are missing when it comes to international student recruitment and retention? 

Gasman: I’ve talked to a lot of presidents who are recruiting in other countries and talking to people trying to bring more students in. I think those efforts are really helpful. It’s important that HBCUs make sure they have the on campus support systems, that they have an office dedicated to international students and that they make sure that the students who come over have that their needs are taken care of. 

With international student enrollment fluctuating across all U.S. colleges, HBCUs are not exempt. How is this narrative changing? 

Gasman: HBCUs have been elevated by all of the giving after the murder of George Floyd. Because there was a lot of corporate, foundation and individual giving, they somehow discovered that it was time to support black people. They discovered they needed to do something and one of those things was to support HBCUs. The reputation, the contributions, the talent of HBCUs is being celebrated in ways that it wasn’t before. I’m hoping that people will continue to take notice of what HBCUs need.

Adebola Aderibigbe is a fellow with the HBCU Student Journalism Network, a project of Open Campus.

Adebola is a sophomore at Stillman College majoring in journalism.