The International Communications Agency has decided to reduce its expenditures on international programs from $79 million to $22 million this fiscal year in response to the 12 percent cut in its budget. As a result, much teeth gnashing from "stunned" educators has been reported in the press, accompanied by dire predictions of America's disappearance from the world education scene followed by the Soviet Union's takeover of that terrain.
But to worry that America might retreat from the international education business is like worrying that McDonald's might retreat from the fast-food business. U.S. colleges and universities are recruiting foreign students with a gusto that last year brought 264,000 of them to the United States, compared with 64,000 students 25 years ago. It has been projected that they will make up 10 percent of our college- level students by the 1990s. Some educators are even worried that we may be overloading our educational circuits with foreign students at the rate we are recruiting them.
The truth is that the ICA cuts involve programs totaling a mere 2 percent, or 6,000, of the 300,000 foreign students studying in the United States--a handful, comparatively speaking. These 300,000 foreign students are temporarily resuscitating many of the less prestigious private and public U.S. colleges, or failing schools or departments within them, suffering from the decline in college-age population.
The students now come mainly from the Third World, with a steadily increasing number from OPEC countries, which are in urgent need of more technicians and managers than their educational institutions can provide. Surprisingly, the American taxpayer has not yet realized that he is footing part of the bill. An overwhelming 69 percent of these students are at tax-subsidized state or community colleges.
So eager have U.S. colleges been to recruit foreign students that, except at the most prominent U.S. colleges, the ranks of foreign students are no longer dominated by top scholars. In some cases, admissions standards have been unofficially lowered for them. In others, small, declining colleges have recruited foreign students abroad by hiring "headhunters" to "sell" them admission, regardless of their academic qualifications or the colleges' suitability for their needs.
As a result of this mass recruitment, the enriching social and intellectual exchanges-- which, it is feared, the ICA cuts would curtail-- have mostly disappeared. With hundreds of foreign students at some small colleges and thousands at larger institutions, they are exciting little curiosity among American students. Walk into the cafeteria in any large state university and youwill find, with few exceptions, American and foreign students hunched over their coffee cups in separate, self-segregated groups.
Foreign student program administrators proclaim that the new foreign student influx is making friends for America, but, in reality, it is making us few friends. Unlike their more cosmopolitan predecessors, foreign students today may come from small villages in newly oil-rich countries, have traveled little and read little. For these students, homesickness, overwhelming cultural differences, inadequate academic backgrounds and little or non-existent English language preparation at home often intensify their unhappiness and alienation and lead to resentment of the United States.
Radicalized students who arrive here angry over U.S. foreign policy as they perceive it, but eager for American diplomas, create and nurture their own alienation. They hang out together, reaffirming, confirming and intensifying each others' views, oblivious to their surroundings. In some cases, they return home more anti-American than when they arrived.
The latest Carnegie Foundation report called U.S. colleges "academic supermarkets," and the American Council on Education warned colleges, in its 1981 report, against the recruitment of foreign students "without a coherent policy." So we should not be alarmed at the reduction in numbers of a handful of government-sponsored students, nor should we fear America's withdrawal from the international education arena. Our concern would be more appropriately directed at the hapazard overrecruitment of hundreds of thousands of foreign students to this country, a practice that short-circuits the stimulating mental electricity that foreign students can bring to academic life.