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Why We Need A National Strategy For Attracting International Students

Why We Need A National Strategy For Attracting International Students

For five consecutive years, the number of new international students enrolling at U.S. colleges and universities has declined. Understandably, the number of new international students dropped precipitously this year as the pandemic created new hurdles preventing international students from studying in the United States. Yet the multi-year decline is the result of other longer-term barriers that can discourage international students from studying here. Worse, these barriers come against the backdrop of several other countries’ making a concerted effort to tap into the global talent pool and recruit top talent away from us.

With a new administration in Washington that understands the value of international students and embraces the role that the U.S. plays in welcoming immigrants of all ages and backgrounds, now is the time for action. We need a national strategy to boost international student enrollment. These students add a unique perspective to college classrooms, support jobs in their local community while enrolled in school, and many go on to innovate, start businesses, and create jobs after graduation that benefit all Americans. Immigrants have even played a crucial role in rapidly developing COVID-19 vaccines. We want those economic benefits to flow to the United States.

Consider the impact of increasing international student enrollment is huge. A 25% increase in the number of new international students, for example, would contribute an additional $10 billion to state and local economies and create 100,000 new American jobs. It would also increase all students’ exposure to global perspectives in the classroom at a time when the workforce demands a greater ability to work with others around the world and to understand and appreciate all cultures and backgrounds.

How do we achieve such an increase? We need a multipronged strategy centered on three areas – setting welcoming visa policies and practices; increasing support to EducationUSA to demystify the U.S. college application process for foreign applicants; and expanding U.S. government support for initiatives that attract foreign students to the United States. The administration with the academic community should announce a strategy for attracting top students from across the globe backed with a goal to measure our progress.

The Biden administration has already achieved progress in setting a more welcoming environment for students. As the administration gets settled, it can take a host of additional actions to improve perceptions of the United States as an education destination. When the pandemic eases, the administration can prioritize student visa processing and interviews at consular offices, increase staffing resources for visa processing at the Department of State and processing Optional Practical Training work authorizations at the Department of Homeland Security, and restore the Department of Homeland Security’s Academic Advisory Committee to ensure the higher education community can collaborate with the agency on policy matters affecting international students.

While the substantial majority of foreign students will pay their own costs or receive scholarship support from their home country, the U.S. government has a role to play too. The United States Agency for International Development and State Department can help support future leaders of developing countries to complete their higher education at our world-class universities to advance U.S. diplomatic and foreign policy strategy.

Demystifying the U.S. application process can also boost enrollment. EducationUSA, a State Department-supported network of international student advising centers in 170 countries, helps guide international students through the application process. By boosting funding for the program, we can further promote the U.S. as a study destination and provide advising and test preparation. State Department embassies and consulates also have a key role to play in promoting U.S. higher education abroad.

A successful national strategy also must recognize many students want to learn and work. The Biden administration should express support for the Optional Practical Training program, which provides opportunities for international students to receive training in their fields of study and is critical to attracting students who want to further their education after completing their degree. And as the administration and Congress look to make legislative progress, they can expand green cards available to advance degree STEM graduates of U.S. universities and provide for dual intent to ease the visa process for students.

The pandemic has created a global barrier to international students enrolling at U.S. colleges and universities. But we can reset our posture toward students from across the globe. The Biden administration has already taken important steps that demonstrate that the U.S. is a more welcoming country. As the pandemic recedes, there will be a sharp rebound in the number of students choosing to study internationally. Whether we have a national strategy for attracting these students will go a long way toward determining if the United States remains the top destination for students from across the globe.

Published at Mon, 01 Feb 2021 14:25:28 +0000