The choice of Joe Biden will be a relief to international students exploring studying an MBA at academic institutions in the United States. But given the years of hostile policies towards immigrants under the Donald Trump administration and the loss of foreign students to the Covid-19 pandemic, it may take time to recover them.
Take Thao Phuong Le, 27, who grew up in Hanoi, Vietnam. He graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, earned a master’s degree in finance from Villanova University, and went home to work as an equity research analyst in Vietnam for four years.
When it came time to examine MBA programs, he didn’t even bother with the US ones out of fear and frustration with American policies. He chose the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in October.
“Canada is a country that applauds international diversity,” says Le, whose younger brother also enrolled in that school for a master’s degree after graduating from Villanova. “Compared to the US, Canada has become increasingly welcoming.”
Such sentiments could pose problems for American universities, even as the Biden presidency is expected to be much more welcoming by eliminating rhetoric and anti-immigrant actions, making it easier for American companies to hire skilled workers from abroad, and reversing the ban on visitors from various predominantly Muslim countries.
The stakes are high in business schools, which rely more on foreign students. According to an analysis by Bloomberg Businessweek Best B-Schools, of the top 20 choices in the US, foreigners represent 29.5 percent of the generation that started in elite schools in August or September, up from 34.9 percent two years ago. .
By contrast, international students make up 5.5 percent of all US higher education students, according to the Open Doors report from the US State Department and the Institute for International Education. That report, which tracked the 2019-20 school year, showed a 1.8 percent decline in overseas students, even before the pandemic hit.
In a further sign of the challenges, the proportion of international students applying to full-time MBA programs in the US in 2016 was 50 percent of total applicants. By 2020, the proportion of foreign applicants had dropped to 35 percent, according to Rahul Choudaha, director of Industry Insights & Research Communications at the Graduate Management Admission Council, which owns and administers the Graduate Management Admission Test.
The rest of the planet, especially the English-speaking world, did not stop. Canada has a national policy to encourage immigrants. Rotman’s student Le, was greeted at the Toronto airport by representatives from the school, who also arranged for her two-week quarantine and transfer to her hotel.
To respond, US schools can also take new steps to attract students, says Rich DeCapua, founding president of the Global Alliance for the Advancement of International Students. “They can make America a welcoming country again,” says DeCapua, who worked in international student services for two decades at schools including Brandeis, Boston College and Northeastern University.