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Trump impact: As international student numbers fall, US universities send out welcome messages

Schools are ramping up marketing efforts geared toward foreign students to combat fears that President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration reflects a United States that is becoming less welcoming to foreigners

education Updated: May 04, 2017 15:28 IST
US colleges and universities are pushing marketing efforts to reassure international students that they have nothing to fear.
US colleges and universities are pushing marketing efforts to reassure international students that they have nothing to fear.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Many US colleges and universities, faced with declining numbers of applications from overseas, are trying to reassure potential international students they will be welcome on campus despite what they see in the news.

Schools are ramping up marketing efforts geared toward foreign students to combat growing fears that President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration reflects a United States that is becoming less welcoming to foreigners.

Nearly half of the nation’s 25 largest public universities saw undergraduate applications from abroad fall or stagnate since last year, according to data provided by colleges to The Associated Press in response to public records requests. Eight schools did not provide data, while six saw gains.

“Students are telling us that they don’t feel safe here in the United States. That they’re concerned about discrimination, racism,” said Katharine Johnson Suski, admissions director at Iowa State University, which is not among the largest 25. “This year it was a little more important to make sure that they felt comfortable with their decision.”

Iowa State is ramping overseas mailings to sell the school’s Midwestern charm to students. Similarly, Purdue University sent overseas applicants a note from two mayors touting Indiana’s “friendly smiles” and hospitality. On a recent trip to India, the president of Portland State University told prospective students they’d be safe on his campus.

International applications to the University of Arizona are down 24% compared with this time last year; California State University, Northridge, is down 26%.

The University of Houston has seen a 32% drop, although it’s still accepting applications and its numbers will likely rise.

The US Department of Education did not immediately comment.

Students in India have been particularly alarmed, especially after a gunman shot two Indian men at a Kansas bar in March, killing one, after allegedly saying “get out of my country.”

Portland State president Wim Wiewel was in India soon after the shooting to meet prospective students, and the discussion quickly turned to safety. Wiewel and his wife reassured families that Portland is friendly to foreign visitors.

“People in America recognise that even though there are a few crazies around, it’s not like it’s open season on Indians or Muslims,” Wiewel said. “Having us talk to them totally took away their fears. But the problem, of course, is we can’t talk to everyone.”

Some government officials are trying to tackle the problem, too. Several of the videos feature cameos from state governors or congressional members. A top official from America’s embassy in India penned a newspaper column last week stressing that “US colleges and universities take pride in providing safe and welcoming environments.”

Along with India, fewer applications have been coming from China and Saudi Arabia, which previously sent large numbers to American colleges. Experts say factors at play include economic turmoil in China and India, but some have blamed the downturn on a “Trump effect.”