Restrict International Students? How Un-Trumpian!

By David R. Wheeler, Editor

“We don’t win at trade. China, everybody, Japan, Mexico, Vietnam, India, name the country. Anybody we do business with beats us. We don’t win at trade.”

So said Donald Trump in a March 16 speech in Palm Beach, Florida. Although Trump has fluid positions on any number of issues, he’s been unwavering in his belief that we have way too many imports and not enough exports. We buy too much from other countries, and they don’t buy nearly enough from us. Every time an American buys a Toyota Camry instead of a Chevy Malibu, America loses.

Throughout his campaign, and indeed his entire adult life, Trump’s one steadfast position has been: Too much money flows out of the United States and into other countries, and this situation needs to stop and reverse itself. We need to be net exporters again.

But there’s one industry where America is still on top. An industry where we’re still king. We beat everybody else. We have the best brand in the world. Everybody wants our product, and they’re willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars — per person — to acquire it.

You guessed it: It’s a degree from an American college.

That’s one reason why Trump’s bungled immigration order is so counter-productive to his goals — and why he shouldn’t be so upset over the Ninth Circuit’s ruling to uphold the freeze on his travel ban. Yes, the Trump base loves the fact that he’s getting tough on travel when it comes to countries with bad reputations. But along with the myriad other problems his executive order has caused, it has disrupted a business where America was wildly successful.

Education export dollars topped $35 billion in 2015, and the trade gap is widely in our favor — and growing.

Or, at least it was growing until now. The chaos at airports may very well spook international students and cause them to look beyond the U.S. in the future.

And it’s not just that we’re making money off our educational export of the American college degree. Foreign students actually reduce the price of education for American students. International students are far more likely to pay full price at an American college or university, thus driving the cost down for Americans. As a headline in Business Insider recently noted, “International students are now ‘subsidizing’ public American universities to the tune of $9 billion a year.”

The predominantly Muslim countries Indonesia, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, and Pakistan — and you’ll recognize some of those countries from the Trump travel ban — send roughly 45,000 students to the U.S. Saudi Arabia alone sends another 60,000 students. Thank goodness the Saudis were never on the list to begin with.

And although factories have been leaving the country for decades, college towns have been beacons of hope. “Counties that are home to a land-grant university have lower unemployment rates than the U.S. overall and bounced back faster from the most recent recession,” The Wall Street Journal notes.

Want to win big on trade? Let’s start welcoming international students again, especially those from Muslim countries.


President Trump in Hershey Pennsylvania in December/ Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons.

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