The Supreme Court’s decision reverberates globally, but the question is how

Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was seismic, with the abortion ruling reverberating not just on American campuses but around the world. In China, where abortion rights are tied up with national reproductive policy, the case was the No. 1-trending topic on social media.

In the United States, the response to the Roe decision has been a patchwork. Trigger laws are ushering in stringent abortion restrictions in some states. In California, where I’m writing from, voters will decide in November whether to add the right to abortion and contraception to the state constitution. Given the global profile of the ruling and the divergence in the reaction to it, I’ve gotten one question over these last few days: Will the aftermath of Roe‘s reversal affect international students’ choices, with some avoiding colleges in states that limit access to abortion?

The short answer: No one knows.

Still, it’s an issue that I’ll continue to watch. Here are a few aspects to consider::

Only about 20 percent of Americans cross state borders to go to college. International students, though, are not placebound, coming from around the globe to study in colleges in all 50 states. Of the 10 states that attract the largest numbers of international students, abortion is likely to remain legal in four, but in the other six, prohibitions are already in place or restrictions have been threatened.

That said, capacity could come into play, at least in California, the top draw for foreign students, where state lawmakers previously capped the number of international and out-of-state students at popular University of California campuses. Its role as a blue-state magnet could be tempered by local pressure to educate more Californians.

Compared with other factors, politics hasn’t been at the top of the list in international students’ decision making. A recent survey of more than 20,000 prospective students worldwide by Keystone Academic Group, a company that helps colleges reach and recruit international students, found that just 10 percent named a country’s socio-political climate as a top concern when studying overseas — by comparison, 80 percent were worried about cost and 40 percent about visa requirements.

Still, politics may have greater impact on certain groups of students. One in five Chinese students in the Keystone survey named political climate as a major concern. Before the 2016 election, 60 percent of potential international students in one survey said they would have second thoughts about studying in the United States if Donald J. Trump was elected president. While there wasn’t a mass exodus of international students during the Trump years, there was a real falloff during his administration, with the number of new students declining by 8 percent prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Could abortion really change international students’ calculus? After all, many come from countries that have their own restrictions on access to abortion. But others could consider it in concert with other state-level policy on social and cultural issues, such as gun laws, contraception, and campus speech. Some international students are conducting increasingly sophisticated assessments to determine whether they’d be comfortable studying in certain places, such as reviews of local crime data. It’s possible they could consider whether policies make them feel safer or more welcome when making their evaluation.

Even before last week’s Supreme Court ruling, a fellowship director told me he had trouble placing graduate students in some parts of the country. “Many students will forgo a full scholarship plus stipend to avoid going to the South or Midwest,” he said.

Readers, I want to hear your perspectives on the idea of a red state-blue state divide in international enrollments. Students and parents, what do you think? College counselors, what are you hearing on the ground? If you’re an international recruiter from a more-conservative state, how will you talk about this issue? Send me your thoughts at karin.fischer@chronicle.com. I could include your responses in a future newsletter.

A snapshot of international education

The Institute of International Education released its spring snapshot survey, and the picture it paints of international-educational exchange is considerably brighter than earlier in the pandemic.

Two-thirds of colleges report an uptick in international applications. And eight in 10 of those surveyed expect study-abroad numbers to climb in the new academic year.

I reported on the highlights of the survey in The Chronicle. But let me share a few more observations about what the snapshot tells us — and just as importantly, what it does not:

Welcome to the “yes and” era. Covid forced colleges online, but they’re not completely abandoning virtual options now that safety and travel restrictions have lifted. More than 60 percent of colleges said they planned to operate in hybrid form in the fall of 2022, offering in-person and virtual courses to both international and domestic students. When it comes to study abroad, about a third of respondents said they expect to run online programs in addition to overseas trips.

This “and-not-or” approach is especially evident in international-student recruitment. While 43 percent of colleges report resuming foreign admissions travel, nine in 10 said they are continuing to take part in online recruitment events. The dual strategy means institutions can reach more, and potentially more diverse, students. But without additional staffing or resources, some international-admissions offices could be stretched thin.

A new buzz for agents? Paying overseas recruitment agents was long a divisive practice within international admissions, but the snapshot survey shows that a clear majority of colleges, 67 percent, are now using them. That’s a notably higher share than reported doing so in a survey conducted a year ago by the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the American International Recruitment Council.

What’s more striking to me is that when the institute asked which international outreach and recruitment tools were the most useful, more than half of respondents selected agents. Only online-recruitment events was a more popular choice, according to the institute.

But as Mirka Martel, the institute’s head of research, pointed out during a briefing on the survey findings, hiring agents requires upfront investment, and some institutions don’t have the funds to pay them. If agents are seen as an increasingly effective recruiting strategy, what does it mean if some colleges won’t be able to afford them?

The picture’s still fuzzy. The snapshot survey gives a sense of direction, but it’s less clear about magnitude. Yes, international applications are up, but will actual enrollment growth be massive or merely modest? Just how many more Americans will study abroad? We’ll have to wait until the fall semester begins for more clarity.

Number of foreign Ph.D.s continues to rise

The number of international students earning doctoral degrees at American colleges continued to climb in 2020, despite the pandemic. More than a third of all doctoral recipients were on temporary student visas, according to the most recent Survey of Earned Doctorates. In 1990, about 20 percent of those awarded Ph.D.s were on student visas, federal data show. The percentages are even higher in certain science and engineering fields.

Meanwhile, my colleague Audrey Williams June has another take on the data: She looked at how many doctoral recipients stay in higher ed.

Around the globe

The U.S. Department of Justice has levied more than $830,000 in civil penalties against 16 private employers for discriminating against non-U.S. citizens in job ads placed on college recruiting sites.

The Biden administration plans to issue a new rule in August to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Here’s background on the regulation to protect young people illegally brought to United States as children from being deported.

Ukrainian researchers said they don’t just want aid in crisis but help rebuilding the country’s scientific ecosystem.

International students who fled Ukraine and took refuge in Germany after Russia’s invasion are now being asked to leave the country.

Russia will require its universities to have top administrators for students’ “moral development,” a move that some fear is a return to Soviet-era control of students.

The United Nations has barred two Afghan education officials from traveling internationally in response to the Taliban’s restrictions on the education of women and girls.

Britain’s education minister is scrutinizing a donation to an Oxford University college from a Vietnamese company to make sure it complies with laws and government regulations.

The Chinese government is investigating the operator of the country’s largest academic database.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada announced an international-development scholarship program to educate and train more than 7,000 people from developing countries.

A global consortium of research universities is calling on world leaders to defend academic freedom, warning that the “resurgence of autocracy has stripped many universities of the institutional autonomy necessary to fulfill their core mission.”

Four alumni of the Fulbright Program could receive grants of up to $25,000 apiece to study higher education and the intersection of refugees and displaced persons through the Institute of International Education’s Centennial fellowship program.

And finally …

A Swiss university will not revoke an honorary degree it gave to the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, although a review panel called the 1937 award to the fascist leader “a serious mistake.” Administrators at the University of Lausanne said rescinding the degree could give the false impression that they wanted to erase the past.

“Rather than denying or erasing this episode, which is part of its history,” university leaders said in a statement that they hope the award will “serve as a permanent warning.”

Thanks for reading. I always welcome your feedback and ideas for future reporting, so drop me a line at karin.fischer@chronicle.com. You can also connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. If you like this newsletter, please share it with colleagues and friends. They can sign up here.