After President Trump announced a temporary travel ban in January, academic leaders were swift to condemn it, and to warn that it would shut out some of the world’s most talented scholars.
But a national study of admissions officers found that, at least as of May, international students remain interested in studying in the United States, with overall demand holding steady compared to previous years.
“The situation is not as dire as what had been predicted,” said Rajika Bhandari of the Institute of International Education, which led the survey along with other higher-education associations. “The entire calendar year has been marked by a great deal of anxiety and concern, as well as speculation, in the higher education sector about whether everything happening nationally may have a significant negative impact on international student enrollment this fall,” with some even worrying about a precipitous drop.
The stakes are high: More than a million students from overseas are pursuing a college education in the United States, and they contribute more than $36 billion to the national economy, according to IIE.
Trump’s plans, keeping people from several majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States to protect national security, are still in flux. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to allow a limited version of the ban to take effect, carving out exceptions that appear to exempt university students, faculty and lecturers. The court will consider the case in October.
Very grateful for the 9-O decision from the U. S. Supreme Court. We must keep America SAFE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2017
Many university officials have sought to reassure international applicants and help them navigate the shifting national policy.
Schools reported a 2 percent drop in the number of international students who were accepted for undergraduate programs beginning in the fall and have committed to attend, from 26 to 24 percent, but that mirrored the drop in the percentage of U.S. students committing to attend.
But students from the Middle East reported great concern about getting visas — Trump has promised “extreme vetting” — and about whether they will feel welcome in the United States.
University officials remain worried about whether students from the Middle East will be able to come, and whether they will choose to, Bhandari said.
The results varied by region and by institution, the survey found.
Impact might be greater at the graduate level: Nearly half of all universities reported a substantial drop in the number of accepted international master’s students committing to attend, according to a separate survey by the Council of Graduate Students conducted in May.
The undergraduate survey was done by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers, the Council of Graduate Schools, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators in May. One hundred and sixty-five colleges responded.
It’s a snapshot, Bhandari said, giving a glimpse into the evolving situation nationally as it stood in May. Fall enrollment numbers will be closely watched by university leaders, as well.