Last year, the number of foreign students at American colleges and universities fell for the first time since 1971. Recent reports show that total foreign student enrollment in our 2,700 colleges and universities dropped 2.4 percent, with a much sharper loss at large research institutions. Two-thirds of the 25 universities with the most foreign students reported major enrollment declines.
Educating foreign students is a $13 billion industry. Moreover, the United States does not produce enough home-grown doctoral students in science and engineering to meet our needs. The shortfall is partly made up by the many foreign students who stay here after earning their degrees.
Equally important, however, are the foreign students who return home and carry American ideas with them. They add to our soft power, the ability to win the hearts and minds of others. As Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, "I can think of no more valuable asset to our country than the friendship of future world leaders who have been educated here."
The admission of foreign students to the United States has been controversial in the past. During the cold war, the Eisenhower administration negotiated a student exchange program with the Soviet Union. Opponents argued that our Soviet enemies would misuse the student visas to send spies who would steal our scientific and industrial secrets. That did occur, but it was not the most important effect of the program.What if instead of restricting visas from countries with known terrorists, we allowed even more students into the US?
In the first exchange in 1958, one of the students was a young Communist Party official named Aleksandr Yakovlev. He was strongly influenced by his studies of pluralism with David Truman, the Columbia political scientist. Mr. Yakovlev eventually went home to become the director of an important institute, a Politburo member, and one of the key liberalizing influences on Mikhail Gorbachev. A fellow student, Oleg Kalugin, who became a high official in the KGB, said of the visa program: "Exchanges were a Trojan horse for the Soviet Union. They played a tremendous role in the erosion of the Soviet system. ...They kept infecting more and more people over the years."
Starting in the 1950's, more than 110 American colleges and universities participated; some 50,000 Soviet academics, writers, journalists, officials and artists visited from 1958 to 1988. Imagine if the visa hawks had prevented Mr. Yakovlev and his like from entering the United States.
via New York Times