Since the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, the number of international students studying at American universities has dropped precipitously. In the 2018-19 academic year, the number of international students declined by 0.9 percent, which “was smaller than declines of 6.6 and 3.3 percent reported the two years prior.” Though there could be a number of reasons for this decline, the Trump administration's restrictive visa policies as well as negative perceptions of the United States’ political environment, have certainly contributed to the problem.
While this trend is certainly troubling, one exception is the University which has managed to keep its international enrollment numbers steady despite the nationwide decline. According to Senem Ward, Associate Dean and Director of International Admission, the University received a record number of international applications last year. The University should be lauded for its efforts to achieve a stable number of international students and must continue to make changes so that U.Va. retains its international appeal.
One important policy that Ward mentioned in an interview is the active recruiting of the best students from around the world. Recruiting programs are incredibly important since they increase the visibility of the University abroad and because they demonstrate an interest in international students which increases the likelihood that they will chose to enroll. Additionally, there are a considerable amount of resources available for international students online that serve as an important information source for those seeking to go to school in an unfamiliar country. The University should maintain these measures and continue to make them more accessible so that international students keep choosing U.Va. despite it becoming more difficult to study in the U.S.
Nevertheless, there is also some important work that needs to be done at the University to make it more welcoming and equitable for students who come from abroad. Specifically, the Bicentennial Report released earlier this year detailed in stark numbers how the University’s international student population has been sanctioned at a disproportionate rate. These students were 18 percent more likely than other members of the student body to receive a sanction after being reported. The Honor Committee must continue to implement the educational and outreach proposals listed on their website, such as outreach to international organizations and more support officer training tailored to further assisting international students, to adequately address this problem. Furthermore, releasing sanctioning data in the future is imperative so further reforms can be undertaken if the Committee's strategies fail to address the problem.
Taking steps to make the University more affordable for all students will also help make U.Va. more accessible for international students, many of whom cannot afford the full cost of attendance. The University must commit additional resources toward creating more affordable housing and working with the City of Charlottesville to address the current housing crises. Also, slowing and even reversing tuition increases would be incredibly beneficial for all students, but particularly international ones who are generally barred from receiving financial aid from the University.
While welcoming international students to Grounds is all well and good, some may have reasonable qualms with students coming from around the world receiving admissions slots that could go to Virginians. However, it is important to note that international students conduct important research and increase economic growth, contributions that are invaluable to the U.S. and the Commonwealth. Being an internationally renowned research institution, the University’s ability to attract international talent to Virginia is a major asset for the state, one that if balanced well with the other interests U.Va. serves, will be a net-positive for the Commonwealth. Furthermore, the University maintains that at least two-thirds of its student population come from Virginia, meaning the proportion of in-state students would remain constant.
Ultimately, the University should be congratulated for managing to maintain the enrollment of international students in such an unfavorable political environment. While there is still work that must be done to ensure the University community is truly welcoming of international students, not much more can be done without policy changes from the federal government. Until then, the University should continue its efforts to attract international students and build on them where possible. Diversity has been rightfully at the forefront of conversations concerning the student body at the University, and it is good U.Va. understands that international students are an indispensable part of that equation.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors and their Senior Associate. The board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.