An Open Doors Report Survey done by the Institute of International Education showed that the number of new international students enrolled at higher education institutions in the U.S. decreased for the first time in six years by 3.3 percent, in part due to the new policies by the Trump administration. While there has been a trend of international student applications and enrollments stagnating and declining recently, the college’s numbers have done the opposite, according to Jim Bock ’90, vice president and dean of admissions.
“At Swarthmore, we have experienced a 39 percent increase in international applications over the last four years,” Bock wrote in an email. “We have increased admissions slightly each year, and we have seen the number of matriculated international students increase about 8 percent over the same time.”
According to Bock, the increase in international applications at the college in contrast with national trends has been a result of the admissions office’s efforts to reach a wider platform and make applying to Swarthmore more accessible.
“We have done a better job of reaching a broader population with our print, email, and social media campaigns, and we have provided fee waivers to deserving students,” Bock said. “More broadly, there is a leveling off of the number of high school graduates on a national level, but those applying to selective schools are taking advantage of technology and submitting more applications to more schools.”
While the national statistics report a decline in international enrollments that are not reflected in the college’s enrollment numbers, the results of the survey highlight concerns of international students that apply to students at Swarthmore. Jennifer Marks-Gold, Director of International Student Services, discussed what her office does in order to support incoming and current international students who face the challenges that the survey reports.
According to Marks-Gold, the challenges discouraging people from applying to Swarthmore have generally not had a significant effect on international students at the college at this point because of the support provided. For instance, everyone who applied for visas in the class of 2021 was able to get them.
“I don’t think it has affected Swarthmore [applications] at this point,” she said.
The international students in the class of 2021 were in a unique position of deciding to go to a higher education institution in the U.S. as the new administration was putting in place its immigration policy.
Nana Quakyi ’21 is an international student who was in the process of deciding to go to a university in the U.S. when the current administration was coming into power.
“I was looking at how the administration’s immigration policy would affect how easy it was for me to move between Ghana and the States, and how policies would extend beyond immigration and affect academic or financial support for international students,” Quakyi said. “The new administration and its own set of policies did raise a few concerns for me.”
According to Quakyi, the new administration and its rhetoric on immigration raised concerns but did not do much in terms of swaying his decision to study in the U.S.. He also feels that the Office of International Student Services is both helpful and reassuring.
“Jennifer Marks-Gold and her office, through a lot of what has been going on, have provided a lot of support and options for students who have been affected by what’s been happening nationally policy-wise,” he said. “Having her around definitely gives most international students a greater sense of security since she’s ready and willing to help out.”
In the Open Doors survey, university officials reported that the social and political climate in the U.S. especially in regards to immigration policy, the cost of education, visa denial/delays, and changes to scholarship programs in other countries have contributed to the decline in new international student enrollments. According to Marks-Gold, the changes in the vetting process and overall attitude towards immigration policy by the current administration have increased stress for international students in terms of obtaining visas.
“I think being a visitor adds an extra burden and stress on a student studying in a different country,” said Marks-Gold. “There is more of a worry now with thinking about the future and getting F1 or H-1B visas.”
Francisco Veron Ferreira ’19, an international student from Paraguay, chose to go to school in the U.S. after considering the U.K. He commented on the policy changes and new vetting process, which he feels will make it more difficult for students to stay and work in the U.S.
“It’s going to be harder for students who maybe want to pursue an H-1B visa or want to apply for grad school,” he said. “I would like to stay in the U.S. after graduating.”
While vetting and policy are causing students to worry about working in the U.S. after graduation, there is also concern that student visas will be negatively be affected. With the more recent changes in the vetting process, Marks-Gold is prioritizing enforcing deadlines for students to submit forms so that she can have enough time to work around any potential problems or delays with getting a student proper documentation.
“I guess the changes made by the U.S. administration have been scaring me a little bit,” she said. “I would like to get forms from students as early as possible just in case they get held up in administrative processing.”
On Marks-Gold’s invitation, immigration lawyer David Nachman spoke to a group of international students on Tuesday. Nachman discussed the pathways to stay and work in the U.S. available to international students and how the Trump administration has attempted to alter those pathways.
“What I tell you tonight, you’ll know more than the president does about immigration law,” Nachman said in his presentation.
In an interview with the Phoenix after his presentation, Nachman spoke more about how immigration policy and travel bans have affected students and international student officers at educational institutions.
“Well, I think that a lot of students fear that the international student officers may grant them I-20s and then find out that they are not necessarily going to be granted visas,” he said. “We’ve received an increase in the number of calls from international student officers who are gravely concerned that they may grant these I-20s that have gone to administrative processing and they’re just being held there.”
According to Nachman, the policy and rhetoric by the Trump administration concerning immigration is pushing away potential international students, who are instead going to places like Australia, Japan, and Canada.
“Immigration in the U.S. is too tight; why fight an uphill battle when you can go to other countries?” he said. “The U.S. is losing globally if we send people to other countries. Maybe we don’t feel it now, but in six years from now we’re definitely going to feel it.”
Nachman’s remark that the loss of international students in the U.S. is harmful to the country as a whole is also applicable to higher education institutions.
Marks-Gold remarked how important international students are to universities. She commented that the diversity within the international student population at Swarthmore prevented the number of international students from changing significantly.
“There are universities that take most of their international students from China, for instance. Swarthmore doesn’t do that, and I think that our diversity of international students is not only good for the students here, but also helped with keeping our numbers of international students stable,” she said.
While the college’s number of new international student enrollments don’t reflect the national trend to date, the current administration’s immigration policy still affects the international student population at the college. However, while policy changes persist, the college has systems set in place to allow for international students to continue their education in the U.S.