Let them in, let them stay: International students contribute to educational excellence

Let them in, let them stay: International students contribute to educational excellence
© Greg Nash

On. Off. On. 

Of course international university students are confused about their status now and in the future. The entire higher education community is disrupted and disillusioned. After rescinding its order in early July that would have taken away the visas of international students already enrolled in online only classes in the fall, the Trump administration appears to be reversing that decision. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) new announcement puts international students in peril again. ICE announced it will ban any new international students from coming to this country if their college or university has transitioned to online only courses. 

Indeed, U.S. education is at a crossroads since the COVID-19 pandemic changed not only protocols, practices and behaviors, but eliminated in-person learning for thousands of students. 

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As administrators and faculty reconstruct educational settings, rushing to move forward virtually in the coming weeks after a national shutdown, continuation and inclusion of international students is imperative to maintain educational excellence.  

Educational excellence, or the “quality of being extremely good,” is based upon many variables such as great teaching, appropriate physical structure for learning, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion across the student population. 

During the 2018-2019 academic year, just over one million international students attended U.S. universities, compared to nearly 550,000 only 20 years ago. 

Collectively, international students contribute $41 billion to the U.S. economy. Many contend that such a significant financial contribution alone is the reason to keep and possibly expand international student education in the U.S. This is not the time to bar current — or new — students from entering the U.S.

Perhaps the real value of international students is how they affect and engage all those in the educational setting — students, faculty and administrators in the community. International students can bring curiosity, as well as new customs and new ideas. They perhaps offer different perspectives on international news and global outlooks.

In the past, the origin of international students to the U.S. was somewhat evenly spread out among the world’s regions; now most of the international students are from India and China. 

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Having worked with international students over my 30-year career in higher education, I acknowledge sometimes unique challenges they face in daily living. Yet the benefits of their inclusion in classes and their presence in community life, far outweigh these minor cultural differences. 

International students bring a world view that expands the horizons of faculty, students, staff and the surrounding community. 

A recent study shows international students also bring grit or courage, conscientiousness, perseverance, resilience and passion to their studies. 

Particularly in this political climate, international students have had to demonstrate persistence just to get into the U.S. 

Cross cultural competency and exposure to global customs is a desired outcome for all who enter the U.S. workforce. Domestic students have much to learn from their international peers. 

Being in a welcoming and inclusive community with a diverse group of people — not only according to race or ethnicity — but also to country of origin, provides a diversification of thoughts, ideas and actions. 

If international students experience a quality education, and amenable social interaction and cross-cultural adjustment in the U.S., presumably they can serve as ambassadors of goodwill after returning to their countries.  

As future leaders of their countries, they can possibly play a greater role towards global understanding and world peace. Expanding horizons by learning alongside peers from other countries can benefit everyone involved and create excellent educational experiences. 

Charlotte Brasic Royeen is dean of the College of Health Sciences of Rush University in Chicago and has been academic administrator for over thirty years.