If you took a look at a just-released survey
on public attitudes toward international students, you could be forgiven for experiencing some confusion.
According to the American Council on Education survey, Americans think international students are better prepared for colleges than their domestic classmates but also that they take their seats. Those surveyed support proposals to retain talented foreign-born graduates but don’t want to make it easier for them to study here in the first place. Respondents have generally favorable opinions of international students — but believe they might have been sent to the U.S. to poach American ideas and innovation.
Mixed signals aside, here are a few key takeaways from the survey of 1,000 registered voters, which was conducted in February:
The Trump administration may have been antagonistic toward international students, but the public wasn’t buying it. In fact, on a number of metrics, perceptions of international students improved over the past four years. When the survey was first conducted, in March 2017, 60 percent of respondents said that American college students benefited from close and regular contact with students from other countries; today, 68 percent of those surveyed said they do.
Over the same period, the share of respondents agreeing with the statement that the United States should encourage international enrollments in order to strengthen the economy and enhance American competitiveness has increased over time, from 50 percent to 55 percent.
Washington’s concerns about U.S. higher ed’s vulnerability to foreign influence and academic espionage are echoed by the general public — and that’s affecting how Americans view international students. A sizable majority of respondents said they fear that international students have motives to come here beyond earning a degree. Four in 10 of those surveyed said they believe that some international students are sent here by their governments to try to steal valuable American intellectual property. When the question was asked specifically about Chinese students, nearly half said this was a widespread problem.