Open Campuses

Thursday, November 16, 2006

WHEN IT COMES to attracting the best minds to America's universities and colleges, geography should not matter. So it is welcome news that after two years of decline, students from foreign countries are steadily coming back to U.S. college campuses. It's a trend that should be encouraged even more.

Foreign student enrollment was among the casualties of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Concerns about homeland security and new restrictions on student visas resulted in long, unpredictable waits for entry into the United States. Students from other countries, believing America no longer welcomed them, went elsewhere. In the 2005-06 school year, though, according to a survey released Monday by the Institute of International Education, the number held steady at 564,766, and new enrollments were up about 8 percent. Credit goes to the State Department, which made foreign students a priority, adding workers to streamline the visa process and starting new recruiting and scholarship programs. Credit also goes to the educational institutions that put new energy into recruitment efforts.

This is a world of increasing competition and collaboration, and immeasurable good is achieved when barriers are torn down. Some of the students who come here today will lead their countries tomorrow, and even those who won't be leaders will leave with a better understanding and appreciation of America. While they are here, they make important contributions, such as teaching this country something about its international neighbors as well as helping the local economy. Consider, for instance, that the 7,600 international students in Washington end up pumping more dollars into the region than, say, the Washington Redskins.

Any doubt about the benefits of attracting foreign students should be erased when weighed against the fact that other countries have started their own programs to aggressively recruit these same smart students. This week a delegation of college presidents, led by education and State Department officials, is in Asia on a mission to recruit foreign scholars. America can't afford not to put out the welcome mat.

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