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The Trump effect? University loses foreign student appeal for first time in 12 years

Trump awaits for the arrival of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the White House in Washington. The sudden drop in foreign applications to UC reportedly coincided with Trump's election. Source: Reuters/Carlos Barria

The University of California (UC) has experienced its first drop in international applications after more than 12 years of immense popularity with prospective students from abroad.

According to San Francisco Chronicle, UC’s foreign applications for Fall 2017 saw a one percent drop from the previous year – a marked difference from its decade-long record of an average 21 percent increase each year (or more than 2,500 candidates annually). The sudden drop reportedly coincided with President Donald Trump’s election, which happened at around the same time last year.

Its incoming cohort from overseas now stands at 32,647, which is 353 requests fewer than before. Two regions showed the most drop in interest – Mexico, which dropped by 30 percent (from 140 to 98) and Muslim-majority countries, by a collective 10 percent (from 1,727 to 1,561).

Although the Trump effect was a likely factor, UC’s associate vice-president for undergraduate admissions Stephen Handel said he wasn’t sure why international applications dipped this year.

He said the UC brand remained strong, despite the recent travel bans initiated by the Trump administration.

“It’s really hard to tell at this point,” he said. “Of course, the national dialogue (about immigration) is out there. Students around the world read the newspaper. But there are other things in play.”

He also said other factors like cost may be at play, citing as example the five percent increase in surcharge for out-of-state residents, although previous increases have not made global applications suffer.

But for Melanie Gottlieb, deputy director for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, Trump’s election has made its costly impact on international students.

Gottlieb’s organisation recently found almost 40 percent of 261 universities and colleges nationwide saw a drop in international applications of at least two percent.

The biggest drop came from countries in the Middle East, as applicants from this region were worried about the “negative rhetoric around the Muslim faith, and immigration changes — even before the (aborted) travel ban”.

“The perception is that this administration wants to keep these students out,” Gottlieb said.

Without them joining American universities and gaining a “positive experience” there, “We’ll lose the ability to capture that soft diplomacy”, she said.

The findings are based on an analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle of candidate requests as undergraduates hoping to transfer in or to start as freshmen. Graduate-level data was not included.

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