F, King Alexander 101518

LSU President F. King Alexander told the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, that changes in the university's admissions standards has helped shape the most diverse, highest achieving freshman class in school history.

Maybe it's not surprising, but the news is that the number of international students coming to U.S. colleges and universities is down during the Trump administration.

After all, the president's nationalist rhetoric is distributed everywhere in the global village.

LSU President F. King Alexander carefully did not blame the president directly when addressing the problems that American universities now have bringing in foreign students. Still, he noted that America is in competition for the best minds, and our friends in other English-speaking countries — Canada, Australia, England and so on — are working intensively to recruit those students, who often study English as a pathway toward a brighter future.

For American universities like LSU, that typically offer a big tuition break for in-state students, the out-of-state dollars — and China is way past the Sabine River — are as desirable in foreign exchange as with Texas dollars.

Alexander told the Press Club of Baton Rouge this fall of that it is "a very difficult time for (attracting) international students."

"What's going on outside our campus affects us," Alexander said. "There's a perception out there that we are not as welcoming as we want to be."

New data backs up Alexander's remarks. The Institute of International Education reported that entering foreign students were fewer in the 2017-18 school year, the second year in a row to see a drop. Entrants were down 6.6 percent after a 3.3 percent decline in 2016-17 academic year.

Other factors hurt international enrollment than American politics. The dollar is stronger and thus costs are higher for travel and room-and-board. As Alexander said, other countries are eager to recruit.

A U.S. State Department official told Reuters news service that foreign enrollment "flattened" before Trump took office, but in fact, it was up 2.4 percent the previous year. State's spin is not very persuasive.

American higher education is a huge clean industry, bringing in billions and providing not only jobs on U.S. campuses but the potential — so long as we don't drive them away — for new professionals and entrepreneurs to fuel the nation's economy.

The president's anti-immigration policies — affecting not just laborers, but engineers, too — may restrict the options for bright young people with degrees from LSU and many other universities. Other countries want them to stay.

"It's an act of willful ignorance to suggest that our immigration policies aren't having a direct impact on foreign student enrollment," commented Doug Rand, an official in the Obama administration, to Reuters.

Alexander is understandably proud of LSU's reputation for educating students from around the world. "We're the best asset to bring them in and keep them here," he said, but today's crimp in foreign student enrollment is a problem for other campuses, too.

The good news is that enrollment is staying up, in large part because students can extend their visas working with companies in their academic fields. But keeping that overall number up is ultimately dependent on the pipeline of new students, from South Korea and India and China as well as other countries.

For LSU, this Trumpian damage to our brand is particularly distressing. Look at Bobby Jindal's family. His mother came to LSU for graduate study and both his parents contributed to Louisiana professionally — in her case as a senior civil servant for many years. And her oldest son, of course, became governor of Louisiana.

Overheated rhetoric on immigration is bad for America's brand in higher education.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

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