Donald Trump’s tough talk about immigration and tightening border security may have helped him win the presidency, but foreign students and administrators at Ohio’s college campuses are bracing for what it might mean to them.
Ohio ranks eighth nationally with more than 37,700 international students enrolled in college, and those students contribute more than $1.1 billion to the state’s economy, according to the Institute of International Education.
Even if Trump’s campaign stances don’t ultimately translate into policy, officials said his rhetoric will have consequences.
“It all comes down to perception. If you’re someone overseas, or even sitting here on campus, you don’t necessarily know what that means,” said Michelle Streeter-Ferrari, director of Wright State University’s Center for International Education.
A survey taken before the election seems to validate some of the concerns expressed by students in recent weeks. Of more than 1,000 students from 130 countries, 65 percent said they would reconsider studying in the U.S. under a Trump presidency, according to Study in the USA, which works with the Department of Commerce to help international students find universities.
The tough talk on immigration has some students wondering if they even will be allowed to finish their education. Wright State student Nathan Balasubramanian is flying home to India for winter break, but his family is worried he won’t be allowed back into the United States when classes resume in January.
“The election results have actually given me a little bit of fear,” said Balasubramanian, a graduate student studying student affairs and cyber security. He has been in the U.S. since 2014.
Trump has made few comments about international students. Earlier this year, he praised students from India and said the U.S. should entice them to stay here after graduation, but he also has called for a decrease in the number of visitors and temporary workers allowed to enter the country.
Trump called immigration flows “simply too large,” and while in Ohio in August he said “if we don’t control the numbers, we can’t perform adequate screening.”
Money and jobs
If Trump follows through on his proposals, it could cut into America’s growing international student population, officials said. Those students — and their money and talent — could end up in other countries.
International students contribute more than $30 billion annually to the U.S. economy and create or support more than 400,000 jobs, according to Institute of International Education and the Association of International Educators.
Their impact varies across Ohio. Wittenberg University, for example, enrolled only 32 international students this fall while larger schools enrolled thousands.
The University of Dayton, Wright State, the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State combined to bring in more than $400 million in tuition from international students last year.
UC ranks second in the state for international enrollment with 3,932 students, trailing only Ohio State, which is 18th nationally with 7,117, according to the Institute of International Education. That number includes students who are completing post-graduate internships or work opportunities.
Since 2014, UD has enrolled close to the same number of international students as students from the Dayton metro area, while Wright State ranks fifth in Ohio with 2,439 international students, according to the institute.
“I definitely think (the election) will impact our enrollments in spring and fall. They’re going to be cautious,” Streeter-Ferrari said.
Miami University has more than doubled its international enrollment in the past five years, but that could level off in the near future. Potential students expressed concerns about the political climate during recruiting trips earlier this fall, said Susan Schaurer, assistant vice president for enrollment management and director of admission.
“We sent out some emails and some said they were no longer considering studying in the U.S.,” Schaurer said. “It was not all that surprising considering what we heard this fall.”
Amer Mohammed, a Miami graduate student from Iraq, said he was worried that Trump’s election could encourage discrimination, but he also said people should give the President-elect a chance. He said people in Iraq are more hopeful that a Trump-led military will be able to defeat ISIS.
“The main concern is that we are afraid to see discrimination on the campus,” Mohammed said. “However, we believe in the core values of this nation that they will never accept the idea. I think we should wait for a few months before judging his policy.”
Miami has a goal of enrolling about 300 international freshmen a year, a number that has more than tripled since 2010. About 11 percent of its student body comes from foreign countries, meaning a decline could sharply impact the university’s bottom line.
“Some fears and anxieties grew from some of the messages in the contentious electoral process, and have been heightened by a number of incidents nationally that appear to have targeted marginalized groups, including international students. Miami’s campus community aspires to make all members feel welcome and safe,” said Mike Curme, Miami’s dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs.
UD is ‘international’
About 13 percent of all UD students come from other countries. The number of international students enrolled at UD has increased from 1,210 in the fall of 2012 to 1,408 this year. The university hit its peak international enrollment in 2014 with 1,785 students.
In 2015, international students made up 11.5 percent of UD’s undergraduate population — outnumbering full-time undergrads who hailed from the Dayton area. This fall, international students make up slightly less than 10 percent of the undergrad population.
“This is an international university. We’re significant, not just in Dayton … not just in the United States but globally,” UD President Eric Spina said in July.
When asked last week to comment on recent fears expressed by some international students, UD issued a statement that said, in part:
“A post-election message to the campus community acknowledged that any political change brings uncertainty, and called on everyone to actively work to strengthen our sense of community and engage each other with respect, support and empathy.”
About one-third of foreign students who come to the U.S. to study are from China, but that trend has slowed recently.
From 2012 to 2013, the number of students coming from China grew by almost 40,000. From 2014 to 2015, the increase was 24,000, according to the Institute of International Education.
India sends the second-highest number of international students, followed by South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Students from more than 40 countries are enrolled at UD, with most of those students coming from China and the Middle East. Spina said the university plans to focus on diversifying its international student body.
“They add an awful lot to the campus community in many ways, but you know I’d like to have folks here from Brazil and Peru and Mexico and Russia and Africa and Korea,” he said. “I think that diversity element itself needs to be diverse.”
At Wright State, international students make up about 8 percent of the student body, with most coming from India, Streeter-Ferrari said. International enrollment has increased by about 400 at Wright State since 2012.
Ohio State has seen a slight increase in international enrollment since 2011, with a total increase of about 1,000.
Paid in full
If international students decided to go elsewhere they would leave American universities with a significant revenue gap because those students typically pay full price to attend college in the U.S., and they are not eligible for federal assistance.
Colleges allow international students to work on campus or become teaching assistants. Wright State offers a limited number of graduate scholarships.
But with fewer international students, colleges would have to pass the cost burden to domestic students.
“It would absolutely have a budget impact,” said Jason Reinoehl, UD’s vice president of strategic enrollment management.
At Wright State, international students pay almost 27 percent of the total tuition at the university, according to a report from SelfScore, a company that offers credit cards to international students. Without the influx of students from overseas, SelfScore estimates that Wright State’s domestic students would pay $2,600 more a year in tuition, a 30.7 percent jump.
Ohio State’s domestic students would see their tuition increase by $3,651 annually, a jump of more than 36 percent.
“Hopefully the data will show, in terms of economic impact, there’s a lot of reasons this is not something you would want to stop doing,” Streeter-Ferrari said.
The financial impact of international students goes “beyond their tuition dollars,” Streeter-Ferrari said, pointing to a boost off campus: “They’re renting apartments, they’re buying food at Meijer, so the impact is greater than that.”
For every seven international students, an estimated three U.S. jobs are created or supported, according to the Association of International Educators.
Across the country, international students spend billions each year, including $5.2 billion in California.
“For 2015 alone, it was a little over a billion dollars (in Ohio). That’s billion with a ‘B’ … a pretty comprehensive infusion into the economy,” said Lauren McGarity, globalization liaison at the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
Ohio is committed to drawing international students and connecting them with schools and jobs through a statewide initiative, McGarity said. The initiative promotes Ohio as a global destination for college and encourages international students to remain in the state after obtaining their degree.
College officials have been reassuring students who might have doubts about their place in the U.S. under a Trump presidency.
“We need to make sure that we’re explicit that it’s not the way we all think,” said Amy Anderson, UD executive director at the center for international programs. “There are lots of voices in America.”
UD is one of several area colleges that has held meetings for students to reflect on the election, with faculty hosting a "processing space" meeting and a teach-in. Miami has hosted a forum and workshop. At Wright State, Streeter-Ferrari said she addressed concerns from international students after the election.
Wright State Provost Tom Sudkamp said his school “would not support policies or practices that present obstacles” for students.
UC director of public relations M.B. Reilly wrote in an email: “The University of Cincinnati remains committed to its role as a global institution, both in welcoming international students to the university and to providing overseas study, work and service experiences for all students.”
Officials at several area colleges said they understand their students’ concerns because much remains uncertain since the election.
Sudkamp, at an international student dinner held last week, acknowledged that some international students have wondered “what the future would hold for them.”
“You have a place here,” he said. “You matter just like every other student.”
Staff writer Michael Clark contributed to this report.
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