President Joe Biden’s term as the 46th president of the US is expected to bode well for many sectors, education is one of them. However, Biden has assumed office at a difficult time. Currently, the US is experiencing a sharp decrease in the number of international students, in spite of being home to some of the finest colleges and universities in the world.
Former president, Donald Trump’s term was not seen as a considerate time for domestic as well as international students in the US. Biden’s views, however, mark a sharp contrast from his predecessor’s. Biden’simpending policies are expected to be more inclusive and student-friendly. Yet, as the new president attempts to redress the impact on the education sector during Trump’s term, many challenges await him.
At a time when the US is struggling to cope with the repercussions of the pandemic, and various issues demand Biden’s attention, it becomes important to examine how the future looks for the education sector in the US. It is also significant to delve into the topic in the light of the recent past by looking into— how did Trump’s term fare for the students? Subsequently, how Biden administration’s imminent policies look for the education sector?
A report titled, Open Doors, released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) — an agency that focuses on international education, states that the number of foreign students in the US has been consistently high till 2018-19. The report further informed that at the time the international students were over one million in number and made up5.5 percent of the total students pursuing higher education in the US.
Through the years, the US government has also acknowledged the notable contribution that international students make to the US economy. The IIE report cites the US Department of Commerce data to reveal that in 2018, foreign students contributed $44.7 billion to the US economy. However, the situation changed particularly during the last few years when President Trump was in office. According to an IIE survey based on data collected from over 700 US higher education institutions, the total number of international students declined by 16 percent in fall 2020, and enrolments of new international students decreased by 43 percent.
While the pandemic hit economies across the world and restrained inter and intra=-country travel, Trump’s hostile policies also compounded the problems of the international student community in the US. In early 2020, the Trump administration attempted to put in force its plan to deport international students whose classes were scheduled online due to the pandemic. Following legal action by US’ top universities and colleges, the plan was shelved. In September 2020, however, Trump again put forward a proposal to curtail student visas. Suggesting revoking of visas if international students failed to finish their degrees in four years, he again caused anxiety and tension among the existing and aspiring international students. Additionally, Trump’s plans also targeted students from Muslim countries and China citing national security threats. In all, Trump’s term was not a progressive time for international education. According to Professor Edward Alden, foreign students became a target in‘Trump’s War on Immigrants’.
Previously as the president-elect, and later as the president, Biden has enthusiastically spoken about education. Implying his personal commitment to the subject he quipped that an ‘educator’ would now be in the White House, hinting at the first lady Dr. Jill Biden, who is a professor at a community college. Meanwhile, through his policies on education, he is attempting to reach out to domestic as well as international students in many ways.
Through his website, Biden shared his exhaustive action plan for educators as well as students. His grand plan includes free public colleges, student loan waiver as well as provisions for low-income students to attend college.After assuming office, Biden decided to extend the date of payment of student federal loans by eight months, till October 2021. Meanwhile, there are reports of Biden supporting the cancellation of student debt to help students and their families during the pandemic. In fact, reports also highlight the new president’s decision to considerstudent loan forgiveness by means of an executive order.
Biden has been critical of his predecessor’s immigration policies, which had affected international students in the US. Hence it was not surprising when Biden reversed many of Trump’simmigration policies. Hours after Biden joined office, the White House released a statement titled, ‘Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States’.
Since Biden came to power, many productive actions have been taken that would benefit international students. Biden administration’s immigration reform bill provides a means to grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants, which Trump sought to penalize. Moreover, Biden’s policies have focused on ending travel bans and preventable deportation—moves that would favour foreign students in the long run. Recently, a court challenge to Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension—which allows students to work for one year in the US after completing their education, has been unsuccessful. The Biden administration has also delayedTrump’s policy on H-1B visas till December 31, 2021. This action would be helpful for many professionals and students that seek H-1B visa subsequently. These departures from Trump’s policies will help in instilling confidence among students as well as aspiring international students who wish to study and later work in the US.
While Biden’s views on education as well as his policies have given a new ray of hope to the students, there are challenges that the new president needs to address. The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll. According to John Hopkins University’smortality analysis, the US has one of the highest mortality rates in the world and is among the countries most affected by the pandemic. Hence, there are many urgent issues that would demand the new president’s attention. Moreover, owing to the Trump administration’s divisive policies and actions Biden has inherited a US that needs much effort to recover. While Biden’s education and immigration policies are in favour of international students, it remains to be seen if the efforts manage to allay the fears of existing and aspiring students.