China and Saudi Arabia Are Invading Our Universities

Between 2000 and 2015, the number of foreign students in American universities doubled, to just over a million. This staggering detail is at the heart of an important essay in Tablet, written by Neetu Arnold of the National Association of Scholars. Those million foreign students now make up five percent of total enrollment at U.S. colleges. What’s more, as Arnold writes, “At elite universities, the situation is much more extreme: international students make up almost 25% of the student population.”

These data suggest a profound shift not just in demographic composition but in our understanding of the university and its mission. Tom Klingenstein suggests:

Student bodies at our elite schools are composed of 25% foreigners, most of whom will return to their native lands. Our colleges receive a tax exemption for promoting the common good — specifically, for educating future American workers, not foreign ones. The health of our society depends on educating our best. Instead we are educating their best. This must stop.

This confusion is nothing new. Klingenstein recalls:

I once asked a college president why his college did not teach more courses on American subjects, such as American history. How could he, he said, when we have so many foreign students?  He didn’t seem to understand that the role of an American college is to teach American students.

It is no mere coincidence that students from around the world have flocked to the United States by the hundreds of thousands in recent years. It is not even entirely attributable to the prestige of the American education system; it is not as if all of these students chose to attend a U.S. school because they concluded independently that it was the best available option. Rather, this influx is a direct result of massive state sponsorship programs, especially from regimes that are hardly friendly to the United States.

China and Saudi Arabia top the list of such sponsorship programs. (In total numbers, sponsored and unsponsored, China is followed by India. The two together account for more than half of the 1 million foreign students in the United States.) In the case of China, state-sponsored students and researchers at American universities have even been convicted of spying for their home country, as Arnold notes. In both cases, the international student communities become, effectively, outposts of a hostile regime. The Chinese Communist Party treats its engagement with the American academy as a chance to spread its own ideology in the West, rather than a genuine opportunity for its young citizens to encounter American civilization. Saudi Arabia, and many other Middle Eastern states that disproportionately account for the sponsored foreign students, views the matter similarly. Arnold writes that these programs attach conditions to student funding that effectively demand unthinking loyalty to the ideology of the home nation’s regime.

In many cases, too, the internationalization of our colleges has directly affected academic rigor in the classroom, and it has undermined the primacy of merit in admissions as dramatically as any domestic quota program. Arnold points to the case of Idaho State University, where a massive influx of underqualified foreign students left some classes with failure rates as high as 90%. A crisis of organized cheating soon followed.

Another important element of the equation is financial. Historically, international students have been something of a cash cow, especially at state schools like Idaho where they are required to pay out-of-state tuition. Yet recent practices have expanded the pool of international students well beyond the traditional children of other nation’s elites. Now, American largesse and administrative activism extend to every corner of the globe. Many Ivies and other elite schools are establishing dedicated funds meant to pay for the importation of more and more foreign students. In many cases, these heavily subsidized students are even used to fulfill a school’s racial group quotas. Arnold writes: 

For the universities, it’s a win-win. While most international students will continue to generate revenue for universities, the proportion of subsidized international students continues to rise. And we, taxpayers and families of students, are the ones paying for it. When public universities that receive support from the state for their operations spend institutional aid on foreign students, they are partially using taxpayer funds. For private universities, access to institutional aid for international students means less aid for domestic students. As a result, families of domestic students end up paying more to cover the costs of international students, who also allow the universities to showcase their DEI ideological bona fides.

American families are not just written out of the equation; they are essentially required to pay for a system that actively disadvantages them.

The result — actively sought by hostile regimes and permitted, at the very least, by our own — is a frontal assault launched against America from our own universities. For a thorough analysis of the present situation, and the threat it poses to the American way of life, read Neetu Arnold’s Tablet essay in full.