Decline in International Student Enrollment Has Many Causes

The drama connected to zero tolerance, family separation, and asylum seekers crossing America’s southern border has rightly attracted a lot of the attention paid to immigration-related issues. That’s not the only story right now, though. In the current issue of International Educator, Mark Toner looks at the forces that have caused a decline in the number of F-1 or J-1 international students and scholars coming to the United States to go to school. 

The story is valuable for adding dimension and nuance to the conventional wisdom that inadvertently affects other conversations. Toner doesn’t deny the chilling effect that Donald Trump’s rhetoric and election have had on international students who are understandably concerned about the reception they’ll receive in America, but he adds other factors that have nothing to do with Trump. Universities in other countries have become more aggressive in their efforts to attract international students as well, which means international students now have many comparable higher education options.

One of the more interesting factors in Toner’s analysis is concern about gun violence. The concerns about the impact of Trump’s rhetoric is ultimately a safety concern as students are worried about how they might be threatened by his supporters, but the anxiety about gun violence that seems random and incomprehensible in other countries weighs on the minds of international students when considering their options. Since studies repeatedly show the financial, social, and educational benefits of international students, the stasis that has paralyzed Second Amendment conversations is having very real consequences for America’s universities.

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