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NYT Cherry-Picks Survey To Show Trump Scared Away Foreign College Students

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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President Donald Trump’s immigration policies caused the number of foreign students applying to American colleges to decline, according to a survey relying on cherry-picked data, the New York Times reported Thursday.

“Nearly 40 percent of colleges are reporting overall declines in applications from international students, according to a survey of 250 college and universities, released this week by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers,” Times reporter Stephanie Saul wrote, who focused on Trump’s role in that decrease.

But, the article excluded two other important figures in the survey: 35 percent of colleges reported an increase in the number of international applicants and 26 percent saw no change. (Additionally, the numbers don’t add up to 100 percent, since the Times rounded the 40 percent figure up from 39.)

Those percentages only relate to the Fall 2017 semester. The survey also didn’t include changes to the number of international applications in previous years, making it impossible to establish a trend or show that Trump and his policies had anything to do with the results.

In spite of the absence of data proving a linear trend, the Times headline read: “Foreign Applications Dip at Some Colleges Amid Fear of ‘Trump Effect,’” drawing a quote from Portland State University President Wim Wiewel, who cited foreign students. Wiewel’s only political contribution was to a Democrat in 2016, according to

“I’d say the rhetoric and actual executive orders are definitely having a chilling effect,” Wiewel told the Times.

Saul also writes that other factors outside of Trump’s policies could play a role in the declining number of foreign applicants. She quotes Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey late in the story, who says that the decline is more likely related to “global economic factors,” though he also admits it “certainly could be” related to Trump.

The survey Saul cited included two graphs showing the percent change in international applications – one for undergraduates and one for graduates.

Each stacked bar on both graphs has sections for the percentage of international applications that increased, decreased and remained the same for nine regions and countries. The graphs also include a “not applicable” section for colleges that don’t recruit from the given region or country, which skews the percentages and compacts the other bar segments.

It appears that only one country and one region actually had greater decreases in undergraduate applications than increases: China and the Middle East. Davey, in fact, specifically notes that the decline in Chinese applicants doesn’t support the “Trump effect” theory.

A greater percentage of colleges reported that the number of international undergraduate applications actually increased for most of the remaining countries and regions. Approximately 24 percent of colleges saw a rise in Latin American applicants, for example, but only a 20 percent decrease.

Interestingly, Wiewel met with Indian students, the Times reported, even though approximately 35 percent of colleges reported an increase in Indian applicants and only an estimated 14 percent decrease. Saul notes that Portland State saw a 4 percent increase in undergraduate international applications and a 15 percent decrease in international graduate applications near the end of her article.

The survey included institutions “with representation of all sizes,” but it doesn’t indicate if a college’s size played a role. Consequently, a large school that reported a significant increase in the number of international applicants could carry the same weight as a small school that saw only a minor decrease.

The survey and the Times also relied on anecdotal, rather than quantitative explanations for what is causing the decline in international applications. Persons categorized as “international student recruitment professionals” and “institution-based professionals” discussed rising student concerns and fears among applicants that visas would be denied.

The survey does note that the data reported is only an “early release of key findings” and that the final report would be released March 30.

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