Competition for international college students is growing globally, and many US colleges want to bolster their numbers — to boost both diversity and their bottom line.
But admissions staff have been hearing rumblings from students and parents abroad — some alarmed by news headlines about violence and bias incidents at US schools, others worried about real or potential visa restrictions.
Because of the political climate here, interest in coming to the US decreased for one-third of 2,104 prospective international students surveyed in February 2017.
But that's not the only factor fueling a recent decline in new international enrollments. After at least 12 years of steady growth, those numbers actually dipped before the election of Mr. Trump — by about 10,000 students in the fall of 2016, a 3 percent decline from the previous year.
Many American colleges have been working double time to allay worries — and to provide opportunities for international and domestic students to interact.
Tufts set up a travel hotline for international students and scholars. The University of New Hampshire sent representatives to China and India to encourage students who had been admitted to actually enroll. Temple hosted a week of activities, including a speed-dating style cultural exchange.
The US State Department continues to promote study here through its EducationUSA offices around the world.
The State Department is issuing new screening guidelines for Chinese students studying in highly sensitive fields such as aviation and robotics, acknowledged Edward Ramotowski, the deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, during a congressional hearing June 6.
New guidelines would require annual renewal of visas, primarily for Chinese graduate students in these fields. A State Department official would not confirm this, however, stating in an email that the maximum validity for a student visa for Chinese nationals is five years and is unchanged, and that consular officers have always had the right to limit the length of visas on a case-by-case basis.
While the security concerns are important, the new guidelines, in conjunction with other immigration policies, could end up "contributing to a signal to foreign students that they're not welcome in the US," says Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education in Washington.
Kang, a Chinese citizen who attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York, recently launched Lighthouse Academy in Beijing, a business that consults with students there about study abroad, primarily in the US.
Visa and safety concerns do make a difference for students, he writes in an email interview.
Many parents have told him they fear discrimination against their children since Trump's election, and they've also been disturbed by violent crimes against several Chinese students in the US. Add to that the recent media coverage of gun violence and "it conjured up a logic that is solid to parents: US is not safe," he writes.
Half his undergraduate clients ask if they can apply to the US and Canada or other countries at the same time. Still, many Chinese students who can get into top-ranked US universities and afford the tuition will probably attend despite concerns, he says.
Even those who have been negatively affected by violence in the US have urged people to see the bigger picture. After the Santa Fe, Texas, high school shooter killed Pakistani exchange student Sabika Sheikh, her father, Abdul Aziz Sheikh, told the Associated Press: "One should not lose his heart by such kind of incidents…. One should not stop going for education to the US or UK, or China, or anywhere. One must go for education undeterred."