US Business Schools Feeling the Impact of Trump’s Immigration Policies |

US Business Schools Feeling the Impact of Trump’s Immigration Policies

By Francesca Di

Updated July 31, 2018 Updated July 31, 2018

American universities and business schools are facing severe challenges in attracting top international applicants as a result of the hardline immigration stance taken by the current US President.

Since taking office, Donald Trump has ordered a crackdown on immigration, separating migrant families at the border and banning entire nations from travelling to the US. Unsurprisingly, international students are feeling unwelcome as a result.

“If there’s a perception that international students aren’t welcome or they believe there will be complications in traveling outside the United States, they will consider other options,” says Timothy Mescon, chief officer and executive vice president for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), an accrediting body. “There’s no question that’s already happening.”

US business schools will be particularly concerned by the impact Trump is having as they rely on international students to create diverse classes and forge vibrant communities for learning about the global economy. Fewer international students also means Americans in business school could have a lesser experience.

In addition, diminished admissions numbers mean less tuition money. When considering higher education as America’s best export, you can’t help but wonder how this will play out.

Of course, American businesses will also lose out on rich talent from abroad. Other countries often lamented the brain drain as their brightest citizens moved to the United States. Now, the roles could reverse.

Over two-thirds of schools fear negative impact

Concern about the immigration policies is palpable, says Dennis Yim, director of Academics at Kaplan Test Prep in New York. In Kaplan’s most recent annual phone survey with 150 admissions offices at competitive business schools, 68 percent said the political climate would have a negative impact on international enrollment in the years to come.

Only 32 percent of US programs saw growing international application volumes in 2017, versus 43 percent in 2013, according to a recent report from the Graduate Management Admission Council, the organization that writes the GMAT.

“As part of the Kaplan survey, one business school admissions officer shared that it is particularly concerned about losing Mexican applicants to schools in Canada, while another business school said that some prospective international students withdrew their candidacies before they completed the applicant evaluation process,” according to an email from a Kaplan spokesperson.

“But one school said that any decline should only be temporary, citing what happened after September 11, which prompted a decline in applications, followed by a rebound.”

International numbers already down

Some schools are already seeing a drop in international applications. For example, Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School saw the number of international students decrease between 2016 and 2017. While the school made more offers to international students in 2017 than in 2016, it experienced a lower yield in 2017, says Patti Cudney, recruiting and admissions director at Mays.

“We hear questions from prospective students indicating they’re concerned both about the ability to receive a student visa and their ability to find employment in the US post-MBA,” she adds. “Some of them ask prior to applying, but they’re definitely asking more frequently when we’re conducting admissions interviews.”

Cudney says some of the students are simply enrolling in other US schools, but this can’t be guaranteed of all of them. Already other countries, such as Canada, are benefitting from international applicants turning their attention away from the United States. Canada reported a 77 percent gain in international applications, up from just 48 percent in 2013, according to GMAC’s report.

Finding solutions

Some schools are taking the public position that these immigration policies will not have a lasting influence. New York University’s Stern School of Business is reporting an uptick in international student enrollment – from 37 to 39 percent – for the Class of 2020.

However, it’s unclear how accurate a snapshot this figure provides of applicants from outside the US as that number includes foreign nationals, dual citizens, and US permanent residents, according to the preliminary class profile distributed July 13, 2018. Dual citizens could be US citizens with an additional passport from another country, while permanent residents are individuals with a green card to legally live and work in the United States.

“The Stern MBA program's international enrollments have not been significantly negatively affected this year by recent immigration changes,” according to a written statement sent via email by a Stern spokesperson. “The university as a whole has not seen a downturn in international interest either.​”

In fact, Mescon says top-ranked schools, such as Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business, will remain unharmed. Because of their prestigious history and brand name, international applicants who get accepted to one of those programs are more likely to take the risk and enroll. But that’s a niche group, and the others will face the consequences, adds Mescon.

American business schools aren’t just dealing with Trump’s rhetoric and policies. They also have increased competition, as more reputable business schools have opened and established themselves in other parts of the world in recent years, including Europe and Asia.

Mescon thinks US schools will address the issue by moving some programs offshore. “We may see a proliferation of micro-campuses,” he says.  

In the meantime, most business schools are taking a wait-and-see approach to determine how to react. Some universities have made public statements condemning Trump’s policies and promising to embrace international applicants.

Bill Boulding, dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, told us: "Speaking for Duke Fuqua, international students are core to our entire experience, which is built on understanding, appreciating, and harnessing the strength that lies in difference.

"If we fail to recruit them - our community is less vibrant and interesting."

While the lasting impact remains to be seen, it’s clearly an uncertain time for both top US business schools and international students. Historically, one reason many people have flocked to the United States from other countries is in search of greater opportunities and that journey begins with an American education. For now, however, Trump’s immigration policies are a black cloud for all concerned.

This article was originally published in July 2018 .

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Written by

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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