Minnesota’s low temperatures and high taxes don’t make our state the easiest place to do business. Yet, our world-class workforce has made Minnesota a hub for innovation and economic growth. While I think we can and should do more to address other barriers to growth (at least the tax climate), we should start by preserving our biggest advantage—the quality of our people—which is threatened by rhetoric and policies that discourage international students from attending our colleges and universities.
The fact is nearly 70% of Twin Cities college graduates stay in the metropolitan area after graduation. As our current population continues to age, Minnesota businesses need access to talented people from around the world to keep pace.
Unfortunately, instead of looking for ways to attract the world’s best and brightest, the president obsesses about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out immigrants. It’s not surprising that many top foreign-born students are choosing to skip the U.S. of their own accord—with negative consequences for our economy, particularly our engineering and technology sectors. I’m referring to international students at U.S. colleges and universities who used to come here in record numbers to study STEM subjects.
In 2018, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities ranked 21st of all leading institutions in the country hosting international students, with 7,212 international students. That number has decreased to 5,500 international students today. This distressing higher education trend is happening nationwide.
Why are the world’s brightest students skipping the U.S.?
“Many schools attributed the trend to problems with student visa delays and denials, as well as the U.S. social and political climate and student decisions to enroll outside the United States,” reported the Washington Post (11/13/18). With some education leaders noting, “Trump’s advocacy of immigration restrictions, travel bans and a U.S.-Mexico border wall is not helping the nation compete for academic talent in the global market.”
As foreign-born students say “no thanks” to what they perceive as a hostile United States, many are saying “yes” to higher education institutions in Canada and Australia. Their gain is our loss.
These are deeply disturbing trends to owners of IT consulting firms like me. We compete on a global basis and losing access to some of the world’s most talented science and technology students and professionals is a major blow.
And you should be worried too. Not only do these foreign-born students help grow the U.S. IT industry—IT workers represent about 2.9 percent of the U.S. workforce says the U.S. Census Bureau—but when they stay and start new businesses they create good jobs for people born in the U.S.
There’s another worrisome side effect of this growing trend: the loss of millions of dollars in tuition payments at American colleges and universities, including our own U of M. Since foreign-born students pay higher rates than U.S. students, their tuition dollars are vital to keeping costs lower for students here. If current trends continue, the next state budget might need to include funding support for struggling state colleges and universities.
Leaders in Washington appear to live in a U.S.-centric bubble these days, but here in Minnesota (and the rest of the country) it’s one highly competitive global economy. We need to do everything possible to make foreign-born students feel welcome at our colleges and universities.