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Q&A: Professor discusses the impact of xenophobia on international student enrollment

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Jeffrey Kucik is an assistant professor in the School of Government & Public Policy at the University of Arizona. He recently co-authored an article published by RealClearPolicy regarding President Donald Trump’s alleged xenophobia in relation to public higher education. 

The Daily Wildcat spoke with Kucik about his belief that Trump’s foreign policy and rhetoric could be deterring international students from enrolling in American public higher education institutions.  

Daily Wildcat: How did you discover the correlation between President Trump’s xenophobia and decreasing international student enrollment?

Jeff Kucik: Data on visa issuances are readily available from the U.S. Department of State, which shows a noticeable drop off in international student visas. After years of positive growth, international student visa issuances fell from 680,000 in 2015 to 421,000 in 2017.

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DW: What reactions did you receive to this article?

Kucik: Around the country, state government funding cuts have put public higher education under financial strain, and this isn’t a partisan issue. Blue and red states have both seen cuts.

Many program directors and department heads rely heavily on recruiting students from abroad, especially for graduate programs, and many of them seem to share our concern that the United States is starting to look like a less attractive opportunity. 

DW: Have you seen the ramifications mentioned in the article here at the UA?

Kucik: International student enrollments grew from 2012-2016. They plateaued in 2017, which is consistent with a nationwide trend. 

The UA's largest source of international students is China, totaling 46 percent (1,816 students) in 2017. Given heightened tensions between the US and China, we could reasonably expect those numbers to decline as they have elsewhere in the US. 

DW: If the number of international students enrolling at American public universities continues to decline, how will that affect both schools and students in the long run?

Kucik: The focus on international students is one implication of a broader problem. Public institutions increasingly rely on tuition to make ends meet, which means higher prices. Average in-state tuition at public universities grew from $6,200 in 2007 to $10,800 today. 

The trouble is, household income growth across America isn’t keeping up. We aren’t making more money. College is simply becoming more expensive for middle- and working-class families. More expensive college means higher numbers of students having to take out loans to go to school. 

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DW: What, if anything, can public universities do to encourage international students to continue applying?

Kucik: The hope is that state governments will re-invest in public education at all levels. It’s ironic that for so much talk of restoring America’s global competitiveness, we continue to undermine one of the US’s last great comparative advantages – education. 


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