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Chinese College Enrollment—Prominent in Texas—May Decline After US Visa Policy Shift, Groups Warn

Changes to U.S. policy on Chinese visas may trickle down to college enrollment, officials warned, and Texas’ schools may feel some impact.

The Trump administration plans to shorten the length of validity for some visas issued to Chinese citizens, the State Department said Tuesday, as President Donald Trump works to counter alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property by Beijing.

Chinese students are among the most common foreign students at institutions around Texas.

In fall 2017, 789 Chinese students enrolled at the University of Houston, more than the total number of students from the top 10 non-Texas states. That figure was second only to India’s, at 885 students.

The university says about 600 of those Chinese students were graduate students, and about 400 of those students were in STEM-related fields. UH spokesman Chris Stipes said it is too early to speculate on the policy’s impact on student enrollment.

“It’s not altogether clear how the U.S. Department of State will implement this policy,” he wrote in an email.

At the University of Texas at Austin, 1,386 Chinese students enrolled in fall 2017, making that country the biggest source of international students. The vast majority of those students were doctoral and master’s students, spokesman J.B. Bird said in an email.

Rice University last fall enrolled 1,174 international graduate students, who made up 40 percent of the graduate student population. Nearly 900 Chinese students came to Rice for undergraduate or graduate programs that semester.

B.J. Almond, a Rice spokesman, said administrators have not yet been able to assess the potential impact of the changes as they have not seen official details from the State Department. Enrollment for fall 2018 includes about 450 graduate students from China, he said, with about 150 enrolled in departments of computer science, electrical and computer engineering or mechanical engineering.

In all, about 8,400 students enrolled last fall in Texas higher education institutions from China, second only to India’s roughly 12,600 students, according to the state’s higher education coordinating board.

Still, Chinese enrollment — like other Texas international figures — has declined in recent years in Texas, which analysts attribute to U.S. degree costs, policy rhetoric unfriendly to foreign students and rising competition from other countries.

BUDGETS: Texas colleges feeling effects of decline in international students

National higher education groups on Wednesday spoke out against the visa restrictions, pledging to work with Chinese students amid fears of detrimental enrollment impacts.

That group, of which Rice, UH and UT-Austin are members, estimates that Chinese students contributed $12.55 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016.

The Association of Public Land Grand Universities, affirming the importance of national and economic security, urged the U.S. government to “formulate policies that do so without inappropriately limiting foreign students’ invaluable contributions to the country.”

Bird, the UT-Austin spokesman, said his university supported the APLU and ACE statements.

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