Foreign students used to be concentrated in about 60 schools on the two coasts; now they are scattered nationwide over the majority of the country's 3,200 campuses.
There were riots at a small junior college in Trinidad, Colo., last year between foreign students and local residents. The school had to close down its English Training center.
There were demonstrations by Iranian students in colleges and university towns across the country during the turmoil in their homeland, and many were hurt. As a result, foreign students in general are getting a sharp look from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
Alien scholars do not attend classes here in a vacuum. Unfamiliar with American ways and often uneasy in the English language, foreign students in their increasing numbers are far more visible on U.S. campuses and in college towns than they used to be.
Not everybody is happy with result.
"There was a lot of activity generated at Immigration by those riots," noted John Russell of the Department of Justice. "When [Attorney General Griffin] Bell asked them how many foreign students there were, they found a seven-month-old computer printout he called worthless . . . they still have a steamship approach over there."
The INS is being probed even as it looks closely at the crop of alien scholars, here to fill college seats that otherwise might be empty. From a tiny tickle at the end of the 1950s, foreign student enrollment swelled from 50,000 then to 100,000 in the next decade and had quadrupled by 1978 to more than 235,000. No one knows how many former students continue to live here illegally.
Since the increase has come gradually, officials have only just begun to assess its meaning, but that isn't easy. Foreign students used to be concentrated in about 60 schools on the two coasts; now they are scattered nationwide over the majority of the country's 3,200 campuses, according to the Institue for International Education in New York and its annual census.
There has been trouble at some of those schools. Local residents of the coal mining town of Trinidad repeatedly assaulted the Arab, Indian and Iranian students of the town's junior college out of what the local newspaper called simple prejudice.
About 80 foreign students boycotted classes to ask for stronger law enforcement late in 1977, but regular students and locals attacked them, shouting, "Ragheads go home," in reference to the turbans many of the aliens wore. Five foreign students and seven Americans were arrested and the school's English language teaching center had to close.
"The community really didn't know much about the foreign students, " the center director, Lynn Hinch, told the Associated Press. "They were just something different."
Iranians got into a chair-throwing battle with police at Oklahoma City Southwestern College last year and four of them were fined $3,000 each for rioting. In Chicago, 11 students were charged with battery after attacking a man who had been watching their demonstration. He had shouted, "Why don't you go back to Iran?"
Nearly 100 Iranian students were stranded briefly at Putney, Vt., when Windham Junior College closed down last December in a financial tangle. They had been brought there by a foreign student broker the school had hired in a last-ditch effort to boost its faltering enrollment.
The broker, Peter A. Galonis, placed the students in other schools, but some of them were still bitter.
Jalil Hosseini, 22, said he had expected to attend a topnotch engineering school in a gentle climate but had landed instead at a tottering liberal arts institution in frostbitten Vermont. "I have no more money," he said. "It is very bad."
Even when they get to the right school, life is not always easy for the foreign students, many of whom live a hand-to-mouth existance. "I just came last year and my father died at home," said Yogendra Sharma, a management student from Nepal who lives in Arlington, Va., near the tiny National Graduate University (NGU). "When I opened the letter I couldn't go to classess . . . it hurt me like anything. I could not even think of going home."
Foreign students flunking out have committed suicide or threatened it, unable to fact the humiliation of returning to face family and friends who hailed their journey to America as a triumph for the entire town. Others, doing well, have sent for their spouses and children to join them, only to find the family unprepared in language and culture to cope with American highways and supermarkets.
"A lot of wives spend months cooped up in these little student apartments, never getting out and afraid even to answer the phone," said Ray Clements, dean of student programs at NGU and former adviser to foreign students at George Washington University here.
NGU, like many small schools catering to aliens, concentrates on degree programs, work-study approaches and English courses, offering the foreigners little in the way of American social life. While that may not be much of a problem in the Washington metropolitan area, it can be a big one in a small town, leading to clannishness by the foreigners that in turn breeds suspicion in local residents.
The problems cannot even be surveyed accurately because the students arrive, study and live here for the most part independently, attending colleges that have never nade an organized effort to look at their alien population. The only central group concerned with the situation is the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA) in Washington, a private group of admissions officers, English teachers, service group representatives and counselors.
"Lots of small insititutions that have substantial foreign student enrollment are doing very well, and the foreign student contribution is significant." said NAFSA head Hugh Jenkins. He is pushing to make treatment of foreign students a factor for states to consider in accrediting colleges.
Meanwhile, students like Yogendra Sharma from Nepal continue to work hard and count the days until they can go home. "Yes, it is lonely but I manage all right," he said. "There is only two months more."