What does the public think about international students?

Dive Brief:

  • A majority of U.S. adults in a recent survey think international students positively impact the colleges they attend and the economy. But many respondents were skeptical or unaware of these students’ financial contributions to their institutions.
  • That’s according to a February poll of 1,000 U.S. voters about their views on foreign students, commissioned by the American Council on Education. 
  • The responses indicate limited support for coordinated efforts to encourage more students from other countries to study in the U.S., ACE found. 

Dive Insight:

ACE asked similar questions of U.S. adults in 2017 and 2019. Across the three surveys, the share of respondents grew who think the U.S. should encourage more international students to study there as a way to bolster the country. But that increase was relatively small, rising from 50% in 2017 to 55% in 2021.

A similar share 49% said the U.S. should “not go out of its way” to grow its international student population. When shown data about the steep drop in foreign students during the pandemic, only a third of respondents said the U.S. should make such an effort. Around a fourth said visas for college students headed to the U.S. should become harder to obtain.

Data collected from more than 700 colleges last fall found a 16% drop in the number of foreign students at U.S. colleges, with the share of new students sinking 43%. This followed the first decrease in the total number of international students at U.S. colleges in more than a decade. The effects of this attrition are expected to affect colleges for years to come.

Forty percent of respondents told ACE they believe international students pay full tuition, thus enabling colleges to offer more aid to domestic students. Around 30% each said they either weren’t aware or didn’t believe this to be true. 

Six in 10 respondents favored enabling international students to remain in the U.S. after graduation, going through the proper legal channels, and more than half said doing so would improve the country’s economic growth.

Across all three survey years, however, around a third of respondents were critical of international students, saying they “pose a security threat.” They were split in the 2021 version on whether these students should be subject to more scrutiny in light of the pandemic. 

ACE’s report includes recommendations for policymakers and schools about how to support international students. Some of the suggestions echo requests the group made in a letter to federal officials in March.

Federal agencies have continued to offer some flexibility for these students to take online classes while based in the U.S.

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