A sizable share of college admission directors say they have intensified efforts to recruit in rural areas and find more white students from low-income families following Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the 2016 presidential election, according to a survey from the online news outlet Inside Higher Ed.
The 2016 election and President Trump’s statements and actions since taking office posed challenges for higher education in multiple ways. His campaign capitalized on heavy support from rural America and from white voters without college degrees — sectors of the population many colleges historically have struggled to reach. His efforts this year to temporarily bar travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, citing national security concerns, and his statements in favor of tighter immigration enforcement have fueled worries among foreign scholars and students about whether they will face barriers to research and studies in the United States.
The Inside Higher Ed survey, conducted with Gallup, yielded various findings that point to a Trump effect in admissions:
- Thirty-eight percent of those who responded said their schools — public and private — have stepped up recruitment in rural areas since the election. Thirty percent reported the same about recruiting students from poor white families. A smaller share — 8 percent — said their schools are seeking more politically conservative students.
- Admissions directors were more likely to endorse than reject the view that the election shows colleges, especially elite colleges, should do more to recruit in rural areas. Thirty-six percent agreed with that idea, while 22 percent disagreed.
- A large majority — 76 percent — agree that Trump’s statements and policies have made it harder to recruit international students. Nine percent disagreed.
Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, said the findings released Wednesday reflect at least two ways Trump appears to be influencing admissions. For some international students, he said, Trump is “clearly a factor” in their thinking. Many colleges “get a lot of questions not just about Trump,” Jaschik said, but about the racial and political tensions in the United States that have developed during his administration. “Imagine what the march in Charlottesville looked like in much of the world,” he said, referring to a parade through the University of Virginia campus one night last month by torch-bearing white nationalists and supremacists.
In addition, Jaschik said, Trump’s victory in November over Democrat Hillary Clinton prompted “soul-searching” among college leaders about a political disconnect between campuses and their neighbors that was laid bare on election night.
“There are college towns all over America, where most people who work at or are enrolled in the college voted one way, and they woke up and realized that people in the surrounding towns and counties voted another way,” he said. Some of those colleges are now seeking to reach out to those rural areas for students. “That is some fallout from the election,” Jaschik said. “It is not good if you’re a public or private institution and if only suburbanites think of you as a great place to go to college.”
But the survey suggested there were some limits to the introspection. Admission directors were far more likely to reject than embrace the idea that colleges should try to increase political diversity by recruiting more conservative students, especially on campuses with overwhelmingly liberal student bodies. Fifty percent disagreed with that view, while 13 percent agreed.
The findings were drawn from a web survey of admissions directors and enrollment managers conducted July 20 to Aug. 16. Of more than 3,500 invited to participate, 453 completed the surveys. Two hundred were from public colleges and universities, 245 from private, nonprofit schools, and eight from the for-profit sector.
Angel B. Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College, said he is convinced of the Trump effect on international recruiting. Last spring he traveled around the world — to India, China, Costa Rica, England and elsewhere — on an urgent mission to reassure students who had been admitted to the liberal arts school in Hartford, Conn. Other colleges were doing the same, he said. Parents seemed especially jittery.
“The very first question that every reception opened with was, ‘Why would I send my child to the United States to study right now, given the political climate and the animosity toward international students?’ ” Pérez said. “That was a very difficult question to answer.”
His frequent reply: “This is a fascinating time to study in the United States. Students are living history, watching it unfold before them.” The college wound up with its largest international class ever, Pérez said: 14 percent of its 586 incoming freshmen.