Trump’s War on Trade Could Hurt America’s Public Universities

Cuts in California have been more gradual but no less devastating. Since 1999, total state funding for the University of California system has fallen by 30 percent while enrollment has grown by almost 100,000 and an entirely new campus was added to the grid. Not coincidentally, over that same period, the number of Chinese undergrads at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has multiplied by a factor of 12, from 257 to 3,115.

Last year, Chinese students alone infused $11 billion into the U.S. economy, over a third of the $30 billion that international students contributed. Industry analysts estimate that international students support over 400,000 jobs in the U.S, with almost half of these in blue collar sectors such as retail, restaurants and accommodation.

Public university presidents are caught between a rock and a hard place: tuition hikes lead to protests by students, while the flood of international students has sparked fears that admission is being auctioned to the highest bidder. An audit by California claimed that local students were hurt by the infusion of outside students into the University of California system, and that the UCs didn’t sufficiently expand enrollment for disadvantaged minorities for whom public universities may be their only option. In exchange for increased funding, this year the UC system capped international enrollment and increased local enrollment by 15 percent, including large gains for underrepresented groups. 

That complex balancing act ― ensuring that expanded international enrollment supports local students ― is one best carried out at a local level. Instead, Trump’s proposed policies threaten to cut off this last resort source of funding for American higher education.

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