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NEETU ARNOLD: Why Are American Universities Placing The Interests Of Foreign Students Above Those Of Americans?

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Neetu Arnold Contributor
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Higher education has yet again inserted itself into the national debate over immigration—and, as usual, it has little concern for the interests of American students and their families.

The Alabama state legislature is considering a bill to extend public university enrollment to some illegal immigrant students. Earlier this year, the University of California system considered skirting a federal law that prohibits them from hiring illegal immigrant students for campus jobs. And let’s not forget MIT’s infamous decision last year to avoid suspending anti-Israel foreign student activists who broke university policies because doing so could have resulted in their deportation.

Why are American universities so hell-bent on placing the interests of foreign students above those of American citizens?

Our universities have come to view themselves as global institutions, above what they see as the parochial concerns of national security and patriotism. This is apparent in their demographic composition: international students comprise 25% of seats at Ivy League universities. The number of international students in the U.S. has doubled since 2000 to over a million students. Universities often tout the economic benefits and intellectual diversity international students can offer. But higher education officials understate or outright ignore the costs of the rapid internationalization of the American higher education system.

This is no surprise: universities have powerful financial and ideological incentives to admit large numbers of international students. Foreign students often pay the full price of attendance, either from their own pockets or through foreign government sponsored programs. The presence of international students can also increase a university’s prestige. And increasingly, universities are using international students to bolster their DEI credentials. Some schools even go so far as to reward academic departments with larger budgets if they enroll more international students.

But the risks of admitting international students en masse are real, no matter how much universities attempt to downplay them. First, adversarial countries can use their international scholarship programs as a tool for influence and propaganda. Foreign governments and other entities currently sponsor some 30,000 students to study in the United States. These students get to study at our universities at low or no cost to themselves, but the funding from these governments comes with strings attached. For instance, Saudi Arabia and China both impose immense pressure on their sponsored students to avoid criticizing their home country’s government. China has sometimes used its students as spies.  So, at least some of these sponsored students can’t participate fully in the cultural exchange universities tout, and at worst can pose national security risks.

Universities also tolerate lower academic standards from international students. International students must take an English proficiency exam, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Desperate students have found ways to game the system: from imposters who take exams on behalf of applicants to students obtaining answers on their phones for at-home tests. Even for those who make an honest attempt and pass, they may have simply learned how to take the test rather than learning how to speak English. So, these students often still struggle in their classes once in the United States. International students must remain in good academic standing to remain in the U.S., which adds more pressure for students to succeed. For those students who struggle, they resort to cheating or turn to third parties to complete assignments.

Finally, let’s not ignore the obvious: growth in international student enrollment, particularly at elite universities, reduces the opportunities available to domestic students. Recent work has shown that attending one of the elite so-called “Ivy-Plus” universities significantly improves the chances of a student reaching the upper end of the income distribution. If enrollment in one of these top universities is so crucial for economic opportunity, why are we giving a quarter of these opportunities away to international students who often already come from wealthy families?

International student enrollment has gotten out of control and needs to be reigned in. Luckily, a few simple measures could mitigate most of these problems while retaining the benefits that international students offer.

We need to make sure that all international students are able to fully contribute to the environment of academic integrity on campus. This means making student visas conditional on the behavior of foreign government sponsors—if the sponsoring organization attempts to restrict students’ speech, that organization can no longer obtain visas for its students.

Next, international students should be required to retake an English proficiency exam in the U.S. after a semester of study. The exam should be carefully proctored in a physical location—no take-home exams. Students who fail the exam must leave the country. Students who pass, but score significantly lower than their original results, should be flagged for potential academic dishonesty.

Finally, student visa volume should be reduced, particularly for countries of concern. The massive recent growth in internationalization has been good for universities’ wallets, but it hasn’t brought similar benefits to Americans. It’s time to restore sanity to this system and refocus our higher education institutions to benefit American citizens first and foremost.

Neetu Arnold is a Research Fellow at the National Association of Scholars. Follow her on X @neetu_arnold

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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