Should anyone really care if there are fewer foreign students in U.S. universities and other schools?
In a news summary, Politico reports that the enrollment of foreign students in the U.S. this year has fallen under the Trump administration. The decrease was reported by the Institute for International Education (IIE). According federal data – which captures data on some students not included in the IEE data – enrollment in 2016 was 1.23 million and had increased by 10.1 percent from 2015.
Those who may be bemoaning this new report are the universities – especially state schools – that benefit financially from foreign students who are charged full tuition rates. Others who see a benefit from a wider pipeline of foreign students are businesses that employ foreign students as interns and new graduates in the so-called Optional Practical Training” program This government program provides cut-rate employees and contributes to a flow of job seekers that counters pressure on employers to offer higher wages.
Those who may benefit from scaling back the flow of foreign students are U.S. students facing limited admission opportunities especially in state schools – as has been the case, for example, in graduate programs in California. Similarly, U.S. graduates would have both job prospects and starting wages improved if there were a narrowing in the foreign student pipeline.
Another consideration is the so-called ‘brain drain’ in which foreign countries lose some of their ‘best and brightest’ nationals to the U.S. when they come here to study and remain to benefit from higher wages than they would earn at home.
The argument by IIE and the academic and business boosters of higher enrollment levels of foreign student enrollment is that the students will go to other countries for their studies. But that is not necessarily a bad thing for Americans seeking educational and employment opportunities. It also ignores the fact that, even after a moderate decline, more than a million foreign students are enrolled at U.S. educational institutions.
In sum, there are divergent interests in the flow of students abroad. At present there is no limit on how many foreign students may enter the U.S. Effectively it is in the hands of the U.S. universities. That raises the question as to whether the interest of the universities and employers should be accepted as representing the national interest.