President Donald Trump’s failed attempt to ban travelers from predominantly Muslim countries and his promise to revisit the issue in an order that could come this week, have sown fear at Pennsylvania universities, which for decades have valued and fostered open borders.
Officials at Lehigh, Temple and Penn State universities have joined numerous colleges across the country in urging international students students in letters and on social media to remain calm and not to go home fearing they will not be allowed back. On Feb. 13, the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh joined a New York lawsuit against Trump’s Jan. 27 ban, which a federal court ruling halted. The Trump administration has said the president will issue a new order this week that will clamp down on immigration while addressing the federal court’s concerns. College officials are bracing for impact.
But make no mistake, their strong stance against an immigration ban is as much about protecting their budgets as it is about promoting academic freedom, data show.
U.S. higher education is increasingly dependent on foreign students to prop up enrollments — and finances — with the full tuition and fees most of those students pay. The global recruitment of students has become a full-scale, full-time enterprise as the college-age population in the U.S. has declined and the costs of higher education have become unaffordable for many families.
“As demographics have changed in recent years, a number of schools have sought out international students,” said Donna Klinger, spokeswoman for the state Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which has partnered with 20 schools to recruit students from India to Pennsylvania.
It is too early to tell whether Trump’s rhetoric and executive orders are causing a downturn in international student applications, higher education officials say. But other countries — including Canada, which makes it easier for international students to receive dual citizenship — are increasing marketing efforts to students outside the U.S. as they take advantage of growing concern about Trump abroad.
“There is no question we are facing the potential to lose market share to lure global talent,” said Rebecca Morgan, spokeswoman for National Association of International Educators, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit dedicated to expanding student exchanges.
In a statement, Helen Aguirre Ferre, the White House’s regional communications director, said Trump’s executive order would not have threatened higher education, though it may have created “a short-term inconvenience for some students.” She said any ban would be temporary, allow for waivers and “should not affect students registered for the fall term if the program were implemented shortly.”
The long-term impact of Trump’s orders, however, could be lasting on the state’s universities, considering foreign students are helping to offset Pennsylvania’s declining population.
The number of children attending kindergarten through 12th grade in Pennsylvania’s public and private schools’ dropped 6 percent to about 2.2 million between 2005-06 and 2014-15, the last school year for which the state Department of Education has complete data. The number of public school students dropped again last year.
Those declines are visible on college campuses. In-state student population dropped a combined 5 percent between the 2012 and 2016 fall semesters at five major research universities — Lehigh, the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon — as well as Lafayette College and the 14 universities that make up Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, according to a Morning Call analysis of online enrollment records. Only Temple’s in-state enrollment has gone up but just barely — less than 1 percent.
By comparison, the number of international students rose 34 percent to 31,002 at those schools during that period. While that number is small compared with the in-state students, those international students saved Lehigh, Lafayette, Penn State, Pitt, Penn, Temple and Carnegie Mellon from overall enrollment declines. International students at PASSHE schools have not been enough to put a dent in the system’s overall enrollment decline.
All universities benefit financially from enrolling students from outside the U.S. because international students almost always pay full freight. They also are legally prohibited from receiving U.S. state or federal government financial aid.
The 13,279 foreign undergraduates studying at those Pennsylvania colleges would pay an estimated $488.4 million in full tuition, fees, housing, meals and books this academic year, Morning Call analysis shows. If graduate school tuition were factored in, the economic benefit would rise sharply because most of the foreign students at the state’s bigger research universities are seeking advanced degrees rather than undergraduate degrees, enrollment records show.
In a legal brief supporting Washington state’s lawsuit, which successfully challenged Trump’s Jan. 27 travel ban, 17 Democratic attorneys general — including Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro — stressed the negative financial impact a ban would have on colleges.
“The executive order has disrupted the process of admitting students for enrollment and imminently threatens the loss of hundreds of millions of tuition dollars,” the brief stated.
Penn State would stand to lose the most because it has the highest enrollment of international students in the state: 9,961.
A Penn State spokesman declined to comment on the potential financial impact of an immigration ban but pointed to university President Eric J. Barron’s recent letter to students. It said: “We recognize and believe strongly that the diversity of faculty, staff and students enriches all of us and enables our mission of research, teaching, service and economic development.”
Across the country, colleges have come to rely more heavily on foreign students. Their enrollment has jumped about 7 percent to more than 1 million students between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, according to a report published by the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit that advocates for increased student exchanges. Those students contributed nearly $33 billion in school and life expenses, according to an Indiana University analysis of the data.
Last year, Pennsylvania ranked sixth among states with international students, the analysis showed, with 48,453 international students contributing nearly $1.7 billion to the state’s economy. In the 15th Congressional district, which covers much of the Lehigh Valley, the nearly 2,000 international students contributed more than $70 million, the report found.
During the presidential campaign, crowds cheered as Trump vowed to enact tougher immigration practices and build a wall along the Mexican border. Since taking office last month, Trump has signed three executive orders regarding immigration.
One order strips federal funding from municipalities that do not inform federal immigration officials of undocumented immigrants in custody and orders the hiring of 10,000 new border agents. Another directs a wall be built along the nation’s southern border. The third, an anti-terrorism measure which the Trump administration is reformulating to address the court’s concerns, barred travelers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia from entering the U.S. for 90 days and stopped all refugees from entering for 120 days. The administration has said the pause is needed to review the country’s vetting practices and ensure terrorists aren’t accidentally let in.
On Tuesday, the administration rolled out other immigration guidelines that would add thousands of enforcement agents, use local police to assist in arrests of undocumented people, expand the pool of immigrants prioritized for removal and speed up hearings with an eye toward swifter deportations.
“What President Trump is doing is important to protect national security and the interests of Americans and legal residents of this country,” said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11th, who tried to restrict immigration when he was Hazleton’s mayor in 2006.
“Our colleges and universities are among the finest in the world, and it is natural that students from around the world want to come here to learn,” Barletta continued. “We simply ask that they obey the law to do so, and that college administrators do so as well. This should be clear: International students are welcome in our colleges and universities, but they must be legally present to enroll.”
With the White House poised to rewrite the travel ban, Cheryl Matherly said she and her staff at Lehigh University’s International Affairs Office are combing through applications and debating whether to accept students from Trump’s restricted countries.
Before Trump’s order, citizens from the seven countries already faced far more security and financial clearances to study in the United States than residents from other countries, Matherly said. For instance, she said, German students receive five-year visas, allowing them to go back home and return with little problem. Students from the seven countries, however, receive one-year visas that take a year to vet and process, and if they return home, a new yearlong vetting starts, she said.
Lehigh has 55 students from the seven countries, Matherly said. One student missed his father’s funeral, she said, because he feared leaving. Another had his visa revoked when the travel ban was imposed, stopping his post-doctorate studies, which were to begin in March. Now the university is helping that student get into a Canadian university, she added. Other students on campus are just keeping their heads down, she said.
“As long as this [court] resolution is ambiguous, it’s not changed anything,” Matherly said, Lehigh’s vice president/vice provost of International Affairs. “Everyone is still acting with an abundance of caution.”
Lehigh has a robust international community partly because of action it took a decade ago, when involvement in the global marketplace was all the rage in academia and finance. In 2007, nine Lehigh professors and administrators published an internal study called “Getting to Global Lehigh.” It laid out a plan to help the south Bethlehem university attract and retain international students and send its own students abroad to improve their learning experiences. It also was intended to offset changing demographics that would lead to a decline in domestic students. Part of the plan called for the creation of a new administrative office to spearhead global recruitment, which Matherly now runs.
“It does have a business implication but we are not recruiting international students simply because they bring dollars to the institution,” Matherly said. “We really believe we benefit society by training the best minds in the world to solve problems.”
The push toward a global marketplace remains strong in universities. If students can’t find it in the U.S., they will go elsewhere. And competition for those students is mounting, Matherly said. Canada, Australia and New Zealand are looking to take advantage of the U.S. political climate by stepping up their recruitment efforts to attract students from the seven targeted counties and elsewhere, she said.
“International students looking to come to the United States are questioning whether it’s a good time to come here,” Matherly said.
Rozhin Hajian knows the feeling.
A doctoral student from Iran, she has called Bethlehem home for the last five years as she has attended Lehigh. It’s been difficult being away from Iran. Her parents visited her just once after it took them 11 months to get a visa. Hajian hasn’t returned to Iran since she’s been at Lehigh because it’s a lengthy process to reapply for a visa.
“I could have gone home, but it was risky even then,” she said.
Despite being so far away from Iran, Hajian has found a second home at Lehigh and Bethlehem. The campus community welcomed her, she said. And she fell in love with Bethlehem, especially the shops and restaurants on Main Street.
When Trump signed his executive order, Hajian, a 28-year-old mechanical engineering student, found it “hurtful.”
“I felt like I wasn’t welcomed here anymore,” she said.
Hajian said many students share that feeling and that those who had considered applying to colleges here might see Canada or the United Kingdom as safer options.
“I hear from other international students at Lehigh not from the seven countries, they were also concerned, and they said, ‘This could also happen to us,'” she said.
That’s what worries Martyn Miller, Temple’s interim assistant vice president of International Affairs. When Trump’s campaign speeches stoked fear abroad, Miller said he allayed those fears by assuring international students and professors Trump wouldn’t win.
Trump, of course, proved him wrong. And Miller now can do little to assuage international students until the attitude that spurred Trump’s orders changes.
He said he hopes the current anti-immigration mood is as short-lived as the ones that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 1979-1981 Iranian hostage crisis.
“Maybe I’m Pollyanna,” Miller said, “but I like to think the United States is such a strong country we will overcome any fears others may impose on us, and it’s not just the [Trump] administration, it is the mood of the country.”
When universities cultivate an international culture, it has a way of spreading. Pittsburgh is a case in point.
Situated in western Pennsylvania, where the state’s overall population declines have been steepest, the city has two large research universities and a research hospital. At Carnegie Mellon University — which was founded in 1900 by Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie and is now headed by another rags-to-riches immigrant, Subra Suresh, an Indian-born scientist — 43 percent of students come from outside the U.S. At the much bigger University of Pittsburgh, foreign students number more than 3,000, and though they make up only 1 percent of the total, their enrollment increased 12 percent in the past four years.
The global footprint of those universities, as well as University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, helped Pittsburgh rebound from economic ruin after the demise of the steel industry around 1980, Mayor Bill Peduto said. In the 1990s, he said, the three institutions became more focused on research, led in large part by foreign-born researchers, professors and students. Those research hubs acted as a magnet, drawing technology companies and other industries to relocate to the region, he said.
“Pittsburgh became a welcoming city, not only because of compassion but because it was the only way to pull us out of economic collapse,” Peduot, a Democrat, said. “Our Ellis Island is Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC and they are also our factories. So when the president calls out certain nations, all of which profess one religion, he limits the ability of cities like Pittsburgh to prosper.”
Source: The Morning Call