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Will the U.S. Lose its Sheen for International Students?

Aug 12, 2020   |   The Juggernaut

"The number of students enrolling for the first time at a U.S. institution has declined since 2017 — the number of international undergraduate students declined by 2.4% and that of international graduate students declined by 1.3% — due to factors such as visa delays, tuition costs, and fears of gun violence. President Donald Trump has sought to restrict immigration in several ways, as part of his campaign promises. But the proposals that affect international students play an additional role — they also put pressure on universities to reopen campuses for in-person classes, something the president has been pushing for, arguing it will jump-start the economy. Both the economy and the coronavirus pandemic are seen as crucial issues in the upcoming presidential elections. In July, the administration confirmed that it would ban new international students who take online-only classes from entering the United States after more than 200 universities — led by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — challenged a broader proposal in court," reports The Juggernaut.

"The United States has historically been the top destination for international students — China (33.7% of international students in the U.S.) and India (18.4%) are the top two countries of origin, accounting for more than half of the international student population in the U.S. Other South Asian countries rank high as well, including Nepal (12th), Bangladesh (20th), and Pakistan (22nd). As COVID-19 and increasingly restrictive immigration policies make it more difficult for international students to study in the United States, Asian students could be disproportionately affected.

... "International students also disproportionately — more than half — enroll in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) higher-ed programs. A 2017 analysis found that foreign nationals, for example, account for 81% of the full-time graduate students in electrical engineering and 79% in computer science and that 'at many U.S. universities, both majors and graduate programs [in STEM fields] could not be maintained...without international students.'

"But Alexis Abramson, dean at Dartmouth University’s Thayer School of Engineering said that over the past few years, even engineering schools are seeing a decrease in applications from international students. Abramson says the decrease in international students in graduate STEM fields is a sort of bellwether — an indicator that if the downward trend continues, the U.S. could lose its competitive edge. A 2016 paper found that nearly a quarter — 20 — of the 87 unicorns (startups valued at $1 billion or more) in the U.S. had a founder who first came to America as an international student.

“'Engineers and scientists are the people who invent things and innovate and solve a lot of the most pressing problems facing our world,' she said. 'If you’re getting people from the same country with the same backgrounds in one research group together to solve a problem, you’re not going to get the best solution to that problem.'”

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