FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Andrew Zhang is a graduate student at Colorado State University. He is a computer information systems major. He’s from China and has been studying in the U.S. for five years.
“My family encouraged me to come to study in the United States,” Zhang said.
He says he’s seen the number of other Chinese students at the university decline.
“For example, CSU in 2019 had around 200 to 300 new Chinese students,” Zhang said. “But this year, maybe only 20 to 30.”
The decline is evident all across the U.S. According to a reportU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports that schools experienced a 72% drop in international student enrollments in 2020, compared to 2019. Stene VerholstColorado State University’s International Enrollment Center Director.
“Our Chinese enrollments started to decline during the Trump administration, and then that persisted up and now through the pandemic,” Verholst said. “At CSU in particular, we did a complete reorganization within the pandemic to actually stand up this international enrollment center.”
He stated that all universities in the country do everything possible to attract more international students. This includes hiring agents from overseas to help with student recruitment. International students aren’t enough. David Di MariaAccording to universities, financial difficulties are a major problem. Di Maria is Senior International Officer at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. He also serves as Associate Vice Provost of International Education. He said that China used send a large number of students from China to the U.S.
“A decline in Chinese students would mean a decline in STEM majors, a decline in business majors that would have a ripple effect, not just on their bottom line but on innovation on their research capabilities, teaching assistants and so on,” Di Maria said.
He claims that many students are unable to come here because of the U.S.-China pandemic and the frayed relations.
“The past few years, the U.S. concerns about safety when you see media reports about mass shootings, xenophobia, immigration policies, and then the most recent challenge has certainly been the pandemic, along with all the travel restrictions and the closed consulate,” Di Maria said. “So it’s been a challenge to get visas for many students.”
Zhang can confirm that last summer was extremely difficult.
“People are less friendly than they used to be,” Zhang said.
He claims that he had to report hate crimes to the international police with his friends. For him, the most memorable incident is an offensive post online.
“He posted a page called ‘Chink Restaurant’ and they listed out dishes that had very, very rude names,” Zhang said. “I don’t think I even want to say.”
However, he says he’s felt very safe on campus. According to him, most Chinese people view U.S. colleges and universities positively. He believes that the tension and pandemic between the two countries could have an enduring impact.
“Maybe more students will just choose other agencies to be to in countries like the U.K., Singapore, Canada, Australia.”
Verholst, Di Maria and Verholst are optimistic that the numbers will increase after the pandemic ends. This is especially true after a joint statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona that renews the country’s commitment to international students. They believe international students are essential to an academic culture that is diverse and healthy.
“Certainly, our classes suffer, I think, from the diverse outlook that our international students bring in the way that they go about solving problems,” Verholst said.
“We know we can’t be world-class if we don’t engage with the world,” Di Maria said. “So, we need our international students.”