Election 2016 and Future International Student Recruiting

Globe in hands on a background of flags of the European Union and the USA

Election 2016 and Future International Student Recruiting

By the time you read this post, the U.S. presidential election will be nearly two weeks old.  Many of you, like me, have read articles predicting the worst for the United States, a country retreating from the world stage. No one can, or should, predict what will unfold in the United States in the weeks and months ahead. There are simply too many unknowns with regard to the political, economic and social fallout of the election. To be fair we know almost nothing about specific education policies articulated by the President-elect and I cannot recall reading any policies with regard to international education.

This blog has always had an international focus. So I will limit this post to how future international student enrollment may be impacted by the election realizing that it is too soon to predict with accuracy how future international students will enroll in the United States in the years to come.

But there are a few suppositions I would like to share with you on what may (or not) influence future international student enrollment.

Perception & Reality

Polls taken of prospective international students prior to the election reveled that they overwhelmingly supported a Clinton victory over Trump. FPP EDU Media and Intead’s survey found that 60 percent of the 40,000 students polled from 118 countries would be less inclined to enroll in U.S. colleges and universities if Trump was elected. Another survey conducted by Study in the USA of 1,000 prospective international students produced similar results. Overwhelmingly the survey participants indicated they would be more likely to enroll in the U.S. if Clinton was elected.

I think it is fair to state that the perception of a Trump presidency, creating an unwelcoming environment for future international students, especially students from Mexico and Muslim countries, is valid. It is fair to suppose that visa regulations will change and prospective students from regions identified as having a “history of exporting terrorism” will have a more difficult time gaining entry into the United States. I am not making a political statement but rather sharing with you what has been stated by the President-elect. And as every marketer knows, perception becomes reality.

Future enrollment from China is another wild card. To date China has remained relatively quiet on the election results. But if trade sanctions are imposed on China, as was promoted during the campaign by the President-elect, what do you think would be the impact on future student enrollment from China?

The journalist, Ian Bremmer, in an article published in “Time” magazine, a few days after the election, wrote that the U.S. pivot to Asia is dead and China now looks, to some countries in the region, more stable than the United States. International recruiters know that applicants from Asia represent the greatest source of future international students. (Six in 10 international students in the U.S. come from eastern or southeastern Asia or the Indian subcontinent.)

The elite colleges and universities in the United States will not be affected by national events. But there are hundreds of smaller schools whose international student enrollment will shrink if the U.S. projects a protectionist image.

Work Visas

Many international students apply to colleges and universities in the U.S. with the intention of obtaining employment after graduation. The stability of visa programs allowing this is unclear. And this happens when other countries, notably Canada, are writing laws making it easier for international students to remain in Canada and work after graduation. The Canadian immigration ministry projects that this will increase the number of international students invited to apply for permanent residency by about a third.

Undocumented Cohort

There are nearly 800,000 undocumented college students attending classes in the United States. Many schools are dependent on the enrollment of these students to help meet their bottom lines. What happens to these students in the future is again an unknown.

What can this mean for future international recruitment programs?

It remains to be seen if these perceptions become reality but if I was responsible to next year’s international student enrollment, I would begin to implement a robust Plan B.

International strategic planners should discard this year’s plans and re-visit the parts of the plans that include enrollment from the Middle East, Mexico and China, Asia.

I would look for international opportunities outside “the usual suspects.” The pieces in the student mobility chess game has changed. But there are opportunities to create new international markets.

More on that in future blogs.

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About Marguerite Dennis

Marguerite Dennis has been recruiting internationally for over 25 years, first at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and then at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. During that time she was responsible for establishing a branch campus for Suffolk University in Dakar, Senegal and Madrid, Spain. Marguerite increased the international student population at Suffolk University by 193% from 1993 to 2011 and increased the number of study abroad programs by 135%, from 20 to 47. She monitored the recruitment programs for Suffolk University in 20 countries and hired a network of 10 international educational consultants. She signed agreements in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Germany, Mexico, France and Argentina.

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