The enrollment of international students grew at Washington colleges and universities in 2015, and foreign students also spent $825 million in this state. But some already wonder if the Trump presidency will mean a drop-off.
The number of international students studying at Washington state’s colleges surged by 5.8 percent in 2015, closely mirroring a national trend that now brings more than a million foreign students a year to America’s colleges and universities.
In all, more than 28,000 students came to Washington from foreign countries to study, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), which conducts an annual survey in partnership with the U.S. State Department. Washington ranks 11th among the 50 states for the number of international students who come here.
The IIE report said international students contributed an estimated $825 million to Washington state’s economy in 2015 — and more than $35 billion to the U.S. economy.
International students at UW
In total, nearly 8,000 students from nearly 120 countries are studying at the University of Washington’s three campuses in 2016. Below is a list of the 10 countries who sent the most students.
1. China — 3,825 students
2. India — 702
3. Korea — 548
4. Taiwan — 384
5. Hong Kong — 212
6. Indonesia — 211
7. Japan — 142
8. Canada — 141
9. Malaysia — 128
10. Thailand — 122
University of Washington
But even as an annual count was released late Sunday, some said the choice of Donald Trump to serve as this nation’s 45th president could have an impact on international-student enrollment in the years to come.
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The number of international students studying in this state rose 74 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to IIE. The amount of money they spend here has doubled in that time.
The five schools in Washington with the highest international-student enrollment in 2015 were the University of Washington, Washington State University, Seattle Central College, Green River College and Edmonds Community College.
In fact, the UW had the 10th-highest number of international students among all institutions in the country, according to the IIE report.
But the data are a year old, and there have been some changes this fall.
The UW reduced the number of international students it accepted for its freshman class of 2016, for example, said Philip Ballinger, associate vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admission at the UW. The reduction was part of a strategy to level off the overall size of the freshman class, he said.
This year, UW Seattle received 10,742 freshman applications from international students — a record number, and almost as many as it received from Washington state students. It admitted 30 percent of international students, and 63 percent of in-state students.
A much higher percentage of Washington state students ultimately decide to enroll at the UW, which explains why in-state students make up 68 percent of the freshman class this year on the Seattle campus, and international students make up 14 percent.
Seattle Central also has seen a drop in international students, said spokesman David Sandler, in part because the kingdom of Saudi Arabia pulled back on a scholarship program it offered to its citizens who study abroad.
The college also curbed its numbers because it did not want international students to make up more than 25 percent of overall enrollment. The number of international students at Seattle Central has dropped from about 1,800 in 2015 to 1,538 this fall, Sandler said.
Sandler said some students have expressed concern about their ability to continue to study in the U.S. under a Trump presidency.
Ballinger, of the UW, said it is too early to know if Trump’s proposed policies could affect international numbers.
But Rahul Choudaha, an expert in the field of international study, said in an email that Trump’s election “has triggered a new wave of uncertainty for many international students.” Choudaha is a co-founder of interEDGE.org, a U.S.-based firm specializing in international-student success.
“For parents, the safety of the child is a critical factor, and with all the uncertainty, there are parents who are trying to make sense of the situation and its impact on their child,” he said.
After Tuesday’s election, the parents of University of Washington student Alissa Mustre del Rio called her from Mexico and asked her if she still felt safe studying in this country. Her international classmates all received similar calls from worried family members, she said.
“They’re looking at the polls and seeing how most of the U.S. is red,” said the UW junior, who is from Merida, Mexico. “I think they are worried for us, and for good reason.”
Mustre del Rio reassured her parents that Seattle is safe. In King County, Trump received just 22 percent of the vote.
Sam Pattnaik, a UW student from India who is earning a master’s in information management, said Trump’s election also has him concerned about his future.
He’ll graduate next year and has been offered a full-time job in the U.S. at IBM, where he interned. But he’ll likely need an H-1B visa to continue to work in this country, which allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. On the campaign trail, Trump talked of cutting the numbers of those visas.
“The process for an H-1B is already thorough, and I don’t know what it will be like now,” Pattnaik said. “I have a lot of international friends, and they all have the same kinds of fears.”
UW officials and those at other colleges and universities have long hailed international education as a way to bring the world to U.S. campuses, giving local students the chance to share ideas and work with students from other cultures, something they say is a critical skill in a global economy.
But some critics of the UW have long argued that the university has gone too far, admitting so many international students that local students were getting squeezed out.
International students are also appealing because they bring much-needed cash. This year, in-state undergraduates at the UW pay about $11,000 in tuition and fees at the Seattle campus; international students pay nearly $35,000.