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Thursday, 19 July 2018

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Trump’s Victory and the College Application Landscape

By Martin Walsh


With Donald Trump’s election a fait accompli it is time for counselors to grapple with the impact Trump’s administration could have on the college admission landscape. Like many educators, this is a conversation I never wanted to have.

Let me begin by stating the obvious: Donald Trump is unpredictable. Therefore, for me to suggest what he will do when it comes to his policy on international students is at best a risk and at worst misleading. Nevertheless, there are clear signs that Trump may make it more difficult for international students to come to the U.S. Moreover, there are signs that his policies (and attitude) may push international students away from universities in the United States, toward programs in other counties, such as Canada.

Who might be affected?

First, there needs to be segmentation when talking about the fate of international students looking to study in the United States. The international students that have the most to worry about are those that are Muslims. Mr. Trump has made it clear that he will, at the very least, make all Muslims go through what he calls “extreme vetting” a thorough background check that will err on the side of turning people away rather than letting them enter the U.S. While there is still some confusion as to how far the courts will let Trump go with his immigration policy, there can be no denying that the current administration has the desire to curtail the number of Muslims coming to the U.S. This will certainly decrease the number of international students coming to the U.S., especially since the country that sends the third-largest number of students here is Saudi Arabia.

Another segment of the international student population that may be impacted by Trump are the students looking to come to the U.S. from China. While he has given no indication that he will make it difficult for Chinese students to attend American colleges and universities, Trump has often attacked China, claiming the country is responsible for many of the economic problems affecting U.S. citizens. If Trump is able to impose tariffs on Chinese goods and this, in turn, impacts China’s economy and exchange rates, it could mean that some families will no longer have the means to send their children abroad.

A general change in climate

This said, assessing the impact of Trump’s election on the college application cycle cannot be limited to an analysis of policy. There can be no denying that the United States does not currently look like a friendly nor particularly enlightened place to live and study; especially if your religion or skin tone suggest an association with the perceived “enemies of the state.”

From the senseless shooting of two Indian engineers by a deranged man who thought they were Iranian (as if that makes any difference) to attacks on a Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia, the United States is experiencing a rash of xenophobic violence that is both disturbing and unrelenting. Things have gotten so bad that the Chinese Consulate warned students to stay away from protests and demonstrations, while also commenting that there had been instances in which Chinese students were subjected to verbal abuse.

In conversations I have had with families in East and Southeast Asia, I have sensed an increasing reluctance to send children to the United States for school. Before Trump came to power the transition was difficult enough, with a student having to get used to another culture and language. Add to this difficult mix the prospect of living in an environment rife with racism and violence and you have more and more parents saying “Why bother?”

The land of few opportunities

Finally, what may ultimately turn an international student’s experience into something nightmarish is what awaits them once they graduate. As it currently stands, international students have the opportunity to stay in the United States for one year following graduation (the name for this is optional practical training, or OPT). Many students use this time as an opportunity to work for a company and gain practical experience. Currently there are over 147,000 international students in the U.S. doing OPT.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump stated on several occasions that he would get rid of the practical training option for international students. It is also worth noting that for those students who wish to remain in the U.S. following graduation beyond the practical training period they must first be offered a job and must be sponsored by a company through an H-1B work visa. The Trump administration has additionally made it clear that it hopes to overhaul the work visa program.

While it does not appear that Mr. Trump will completely eliminate the H1-B program, he clearly wants it to be a company’s last resort when it comes to hiring talent. Given that the success rate for those who apply to the U.S. Government for an H1-B visa was only 37 percent last year, I think it is fair to say that Trump is looking to lower that percentage significantly. The potential impact of these policies on the ability of tech companies to hire engineering talent out of college has sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley.

Heading north

While we are still at least one year away from fully understanding how a Trump administration will impact the college admission landscape, some Canadian data indicate that students are turning away from the U.S. and exploring other options. For example, international applications to the University of Toronto jumped this year, with the largest increase coming from students in the U.S. looking to escape—for a time at least—Trump’s rule.

At the University of British Columbia, the Director of International Admission, Aaron Andersen, notes that there has been a “15 percent increase” in international applications to UBC this year. While reluctant to claim that Trump’s election was solely responsible for the bump in numbers, he did note that that UBC had seen an increase in applications from Muslim countries in the Middle East, such as the UAE. “This increase,” Mr. Andersen conceded, “was most likely connected to the election results in the United States.”

Stateside, officials at many colleges report that Trump’s election is clearly tilting enrollment patterns. Some recruiters say that foreign students are avoiding the U.S. amid worries about safety and deportation, opting for Canada and Australia instead. As Stephen Dunnett, the Vice-Provost for international education at SUNY Buffalo told Business Insider, “I think everybody in international education is a little uneasy. It is going to be perhaps a little bit rocky for a couple of years.”

What these “rocky years” will mean for college counselors working with international students is still a bit fuzzy. Still, as I begin to work with a new crop of juniors—many of whom are Muslim, some of whom are international—I have made a point of doing the following:

1. I take the time to discuss options in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

2. I provide students with up-to-date campus safety reports as well as information on the prevalence of hate crimes in the region.

3. I strongly encourage students to discuss safety concerns with admission officers.

4. Working with the student, I search for evidence that each university on the student’s list has systems in place to help targeted international students feel accepted and welcomed.
Sadly, it would appear this is the new “normal.”

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