International students are again clamouring to come to the United States.
That’s the word we’re getting from our international partners, and it’s the trend we’re starting to see in application and enrollment numbers. And it’s extraordinarily good news.
Higher education has long been one of this country’s great exports. Our colleges and universities are the envy of the world, and for many years—and especially recently, as the global middle class has grown—aspirational students from all corners of the globe have come to the United States to earn a college degree. They wanted an English-language education, and they especially wanted an American education.
But for the last four years, American education hasn’t always been easy to obtain. The United States became conspicuously less open to foreigners during the previous administration. Visa restrictions were tightened. International students in some cases reported feeling less welcome in our cities and towns. As a result, the number of international students enrolling in American colleges and universities shrunk. And that prompted the concern that international students wouldn’t want to come to the United States anymore, even when policies changed.
Then came the pandemic, which necessarily prompted major travel restrictions and caused even further enrollment declines. A new report shows that the number of international students studying in the United States fell 18 per cent last year, according to student visa records. Even worse, with US consulates worldwide shuttered by the pandemic, the number of visas issued for newly enrolled international students dropped a whopping 72 per cent.
The double blow to international enrollment prompted an existential worry. With American colleges and universities less accessible even pre-pandemic, students from around the world had looked to other, more open English-speaking countries, like Australia and Canada. When the pandemic receded, would the next generation of international students look to the United States?
We’re now seeing that the answer is a resounding yes.
Simply put, they want to be here. Our recruitment partners tell us that the change in administration has created tremendous energy and excitement about studying in the United States. The trend is so new that there aren’t yet national numbers. At Pace University, we saw 200 new international students enrol for the Spring 2020 semester, despite continued travel restrictions. Right now, international graduate school applications at Pace are up 11 per cent year-over-year—that is, above our pre-lockdown numbers. For undergraduates, inquiries are up 6 per cent and applications are up 3 per cent against a similar timeframe. We’re hopeful for a close-to-normal Fall 2021, and we anticipate numbers will increase as more and more restrictions are lifted.
They’re recommitting to American colleges and universities because they know we offer what even those other English-speaking countries cannot: the world’s best education, and the world’s most desired job opportunities. International students who come to the United States to study a STEM-related field also have the right to work in this country for up to three years after graduation—with no additional effort on the part of their employer. And there is a huge demand for international graduates in this country, especially in those STEM fields, where they provide much-needed talent that drives growth.
We’re ready to welcome this eager new cohort of international students.
Because as much as international students benefit from learning at American colleges and universities, they also bring unique advantages to our campuses and country, too.
In today’s globalized economy, learning alongside students from around the world helps our American students gain new perspectives and new interpersonal skills, making them better critical thinkers. It helps all of our students learn about other cultures and form more informed opinions. It helps them better understand international issues, foreign affairs, and immigration issues. It provides opportunities for unique cross-cultural experiences, whether celebrating new holidays, sampling new cuisines, or travelling to visit friends in their home countries. And it opens our students to connections that will benefit them throughout their careers.
Rolling out the welcome mat for international students is the ultimate win-win. It’s good for the students, good for our colleges and universities, good for our American students, and good for America’s standing in the world. These students want to be on our campuses. As the world opens back, let’s help them get here.
Author: Marvin Krislov, President Pace University.
Bio: As president of Pace University, I’m deeply committed to our traditional mission of Opportunities—providing all students, regardless of economic background, access to the transformative power of education. I’m proud that Opportunity Insights at Harvard University ranked as the nation’s top four-year, private college for driving economic mobility. Before coming to Pace, I served for 10 years as the president of Oberlin College, where I led efforts to make the college more rigorous, diverse, inclusive and accessible to students from every socioeconomic background. Before that, I was vice president and general counsel at the University of Michigan, where I led the legal defence of the university’s admission policies that resulted in the 2003 Supreme Court decision recognizing the importance of student body diversity. I earned a bachelor’s degree at Yale University in 1982, and I was named a Rhodes Scholar. I earned my Juris Doctor degree at Yale Law School in 1988.