A United States university recruitment stand at a China Education Expo in Shanghai. Photo: AFP
A United States university recruitment stand at a China Education Expo in Shanghai. Photo: AFP

The lion’s share of American students apply for financial aid in the form of scholarships and loans given the mounting costs of earning a college degree in the United States.

Tracker College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget (including tuition fees and board) for an in-state public college for the 2016–2017 academic year averaged US$24,610. A moderate budget at a private college averaged US$49,320. Top universities charge much more.

Federal and state aid for higher learning remains low when compared with prior decades, forcing most US students to shoulder weighty loans.

Many Chinese students, in comparison, come from wealthy families or are recipients of Chinese government financial aid.

There would clearly be economic fallout on US universities and their locales if the number of Chinese and other foreign students plunged for political reasons.

IIE says the US economy raked in a total of US$30.5 billion from all foreign students in 2015. About 60% of the students are from Asia and the Middle East. About 1.04 million studied in the US in 2015/2016.

Visa program

US President-elect Donald Trump didn’t directly address the issue of Chinese students attending US universities in his campaign. But he’s taken contradictory stands on the US H-1B visa program for high-skilled foreign workers that is an inducement for foreign students, including Chinese and Indians, to study at US universities.

The H-1B visa allows US employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

A November report from Moody’s Investors Service said that the number of international students in the US will decline if Trump upholds a campaign promise to limit or end the H-1B visa program. That’s because making it harder for US firms to hire foreigners would lessen the chances that international students would be able to land jobs after graduation.

Some US schools are reportedly antsy that Trump’s nativist rhetoric and a spate of racist attacks against Muslims and non-whites on local campuses following the election will chill further foreign enrollments.

However, initial signs don’t indicate a major drop. A post-election poll of 6,744 prospective international student applicants to US universities found that 58% still view the US positively following Trump’s win.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric

The survey by London-based Hotcourses Group, a global course search provider, also found that only 25% of Chinese students said it was “less likely” that they would apply to a US school because of Trump, while 30% said they would “definitely” apply, 35% were “more likely,” and 10% were “undecided.”

“Our survey results show that roughly a third of prospective students from China are ‘more likely’ to consider studying in the US following the election, so I don’t think the short-term impact on Chinese recruitment at US universities will be drastically affected,” said Hotcourses international editor Katie Duncan.

At the same time, Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, doubts about his future stance on immigration to the US, and how this might affect H-1B visas, could have a longer term negative impact, according to Duncan.

“Those students keen on settling down permanently in the US may potentially now consider alternative destinations such as Canada or Australia. But it’s unlikely that those looking for a quality US education, which accounts for the majority of international students, will be put off,” Duncan said.

Doug Tsuruoka is the Asia Times Editor-at-Large

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