Red state, blue state edition

Partisanship may not matter, but state-level policies affect international students

Voting with their Tuition Dollars?

International students follow American presidential politics, that much the Trump era has taught us. But do they pay attention to state-level political affiliations? 

Tim O’Brien, vice president of global partner development at INTO University Partnerships, decided to examine enrollment trends through the lens of Gallup’s state-level partisan data. Of the 10 states with the largest numbers with international students, he found, six were strong or lean Democratic, while Gallup rated three as competitive. Just one, Indiana, leaned Republican. Likewise, the states with the largest growth in international enrollments since the 2015 academic year were either Democratic or rated competitive. Among the states with the greatest declines during the same period, four were rated Republican while one, Michigan, leans Democratic.

Does that mean a state’s partisan tendencies can predict its appeal to students and families? Probably not, says O’Brien. Factors like institutional quality and program offerings drive student choice and may just happen to align politically. For example, many Democratic-leaning states have large urban centers with multiple colleges and language programs.

But simply because international students’ view of America doesn’t match the election night map doesn’t mean state politics are irrelevant. As filtered through policy, in fact, they may matter quite a lot. Surveys, for instance, show that international students worry about gun violence; one international administrator told me this spring that his biggest recruitment concern was that his state legislature would pass a concealed-carry bill and spook families. (It failed.) 

Critically, states in large part control the purse strings for public colleges. Elected officials, or the boards they appoint, frequently set tuition policy, determining out-of-state tuition rates, international-student fees, and whether foreign students can qualify for institutional financial aid.

As I’ve written before, research shows that declines in state appropriations correlate with increases in international enrollments at public flagship and research universities. While factors like selectivity also come into play, this suggests that universities in states where there is less support for higher education may have an incentive to double down on overseas recruitment – in other words, politics and policy can affect practice. 

Still, it’s not black and white whether it matters that a state is red or blue – Republican states are represented in larger numbers among the states that have experienced the biggest cuts in public-college funding since the recession and among those where funding had increased or held steady. In fact, both the state with largest growth in higher-education spending, North Dakota, and the one with the steepest cuts, Louisiana, are Republican.

Partisanship may not be key, but the policy agenda a state’s officials pursue may affect its international appeal.

Think there are interesting trends in international education, from enrollment to study abroad, I should highlight? Let me know at

Mixed Signals on China

When it comes to news about Chinese students and researchers, the past week has been a bit all over the place. Consider:

The defense authorization bill approved by the Senate on Thursday includes a provision requiring the secretary of defense to compile a “list of academic institutions in China and Russia associated with defense programs of those countries, in order to identify any university heavily engaged in military research as part of an effort to protect American national security academic researchers from undue influence and other security threats.”

In a marathon press conference at the G-20 summit in Japan, President Trump seemed to back away from his own administration’s hostile stance toward Chinese students, saying that he wants more students from China to study at American colleges – and perhaps to even stay on and work. He suggested there should be a “smart person’s waiver” on visas for international students and educated immigrants:

Chinese state media reported that President Xi Jinping raised the issue of tightening visa restrictions on Chinese students with President Trump during a bilateral meeting, saying that the United States should treat Chinese students in a “fair way.”

New reporting suggests that the federal investigation into researchers’ ties to other countries, and particularly to China, is broader and has been going on longer than previously understood. Universities were dismissive when the National Institutes of Health first approached them about scientists’ undisclosed foreign ties, according to a Science interview with the head of the NIH’s extramural research program. But now, multiple institutions have fired researchers and some have repaid hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants.

Meanwhile, a lawyer who represents some of the dismissed scientists warned academics that if they participate in Thousand Talents, a Chinese-government-sponsored research program, “you have a target on your back.”

Speaking Up for International Education

If the news has been mixed, in recent days there has been a flurry of statements from college leaders, all in support of international education and international students:

Have leaders on your campus spoken out, too? Send their statements my way!

Around the Globe

The Supreme Court will decide whether the Trump administration can end a program that shields young undocumented immigrants, or Dreamers, from deportation.

Jurors took less than 90 minutes to convict a former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate student in the murder of a visiting scholar from China

The Education Department is investigating a Middle East studies event hosted by Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at which a Palestinian guest performer appeared to lead the audience in anti-Semitic rhetoric. 

An Australian student is missing in Pyongyang and is believed to have been detained by North Korean authorities.

Somalia National University, the country’s only publicly-funded university, held its first graduation in 30 years.

H-1B visa fees paid by employers have funded nearly 90,000 scholarships for American students in science and engineering, according to research from the National Foundation for American Policy.

An investigation by the Globe and Mail found that recruiters lured students into paying tens of thousands of dollars with the promise of being able to come to Canada and work. And scammed by agents, African students have ended up stranded in Northern Cyprus, an unrecognized country.

100,000 Strong in the Americas has awarded eight innovation fund grants to partnerships between American and Mexican higher-education institutions.

If you spot international-education news I may have missed, email or tweet me @karinfischer.

And finally....

Hua Qu heard a prerecorded announcement in Farsi: “Dear caller, this is a phone call from an inmate in Evin Prison.” The message repeated itself every two minutes, interrupting her husband, a graduate student at Princeton University who had gone to Iran to research his doctoral dissertation, as he struggled to explain that he had been arrested and was being charged with espionage.

Could tensions between the U.S. and Iran imperil a Princeton graduate student imprisoned in Iran? A sobering story.

’Til next week – Karin

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