Ali Reza Payandah is hunkered down in Baton Rouge this summer because of President Donald J. Trump’s travel ban on six Muslim majority countries.

An Iranian, Payandah’s homeland was targeted by the president as a nation that either condones or can’t control terrorism and whose citizens, therefore, won’t be allowed in the U.S. Three years into a five-year doctorate degree in oceanography, Payandah has the requisite “established relationship” with LSU that would exempt him from the order. But he’s taking no chances on bureaucratic foul-ups.

Whether or not the president’s restrictions prevent terrorism remains to be seen. What’s clear is that all the debate — likely to continue until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the order's constitutionality months from now — has given many international students pause. That worries Louisiana higher ed administrators.

“When I came, the United States was our first choice, because of the freedoms here,” Payandah said. “But the new students, they’re thinking about the ban and the problems and they’re choosing to go elsewhere, like Canada.”

As it would turn out there’s a study that gives some empirical backing to Payandah’s personal observations.

In a survey released in early July, Hotcourses Group, a British based educational guidance company, found that fewer international students have signed up for American colleges. For Middle Eastern students coming to America, the drop was 5.5 percentage points between June 2015 and June 2017, while the increase for Canada was 7 points.

Another study showed it’s not just students from the Middle East worried about maintaining their visas. An overwhelming number of students from India — who are not part of the travel ban — doesn’t feel welcome in America.

These are not insignificant factoids for Louisiana public universities.

Trump’s order threatens the delicate formula Louisiana higher ed administrators have used to balance both a state government spends-too-much rhetoric and the real-life political demands of not losing significant academic services. Public universities have come to rely on foreign students' tuition and fees to augment revenues in budgets that have been slashed repeatedly over the past decade.

Foreign students pay full freight, rather than the reduced fares that Louisiana residents receive.

Since 2007, the number of internationals in Louisiana universities has risen 36 percent to 6,457 students statewide, while total enrollment has gone up 8 percent to 211,248, according to the latest available data compiled by the Board of Regents overseeing all Louisiana’s higher education institutions.

And the financial impact is black and white.

Take LSU as an example.

Last fall, LSU enrolled 1,741 students from other countries and 5,760 students from other states. LSU in 2016 received $90 million from nonresident fees and $62.2 million from the state general fund. True, numbers pulled from a spreadsheet are not determinative; they do underscore a point that Louisiana college administrators make time and again: International students are important to higher education’s bottom line.

It’s a point being made across the nation, the Chronicle of Higher Education repeatedly reports. The primary news source for college officials, the Chronicle tells how educators “swap strategies about how to calm anxious parents in Shanghai and Mumbai.”

This being academia, plenty of research has been launched, the Chronicle reports. Within the past couple weeks; studies have been published to support pretty much every position between “Everything will be okay” to “Katy bar the door.”

“Forty-six percent of graduate deans reported ‘substantial downward changes’ in international admissions yields, or the share of accepted students who enroll, at the master’s-degree level,” reported the Council of Graduate Schools.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators, on the other hand, was “cautiously optimistic” about a study that found enrollments between fall 2016 and fall 2017 have dipped only 2 percent.

Classes begin in August, so the universities are trying to nail down just who will be paying fees and attending classes. A show of confidence goes a long way to close the deal. So, Louisiana administrators are embracing the “cautiously optimistic” take.

Southern University and A&M College Center for International Affairs and University Outreach anticipates “a slight drop in applications of international students,” Dean Barbara W. Carpenter said in a prepared statement.

"We are depending on our current international students to serve as 'goodwill ambassadors' in letting their fellow countrymen know that our university is a safe place where students will receive a top quality education from a caring and devoted faculty,” she said.

Across Baton Rouge, LSU Vice Chancellor Jason Droddy noted, “LSU’s international applications appear to be doing better than other universities around the nation, though the national trend seems to be fewer students coming to the U.S. in fall 2017.”

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