An Incalculable Loss: Lack of a Coherent U.S. Policy on International Education Will Have Serious Consequences at Home and Abroad

Article excerpt

Bessie Coleman wanted to be a pilot. But she was turned down by every flight school in America because she was Black and female. So the manicurist from Chicago saved her hard-earned money, learned French, obtained a passport and headed to France to pursue her dream.

Coleman received her pilot's license from the International Aeronautical Federation in Paris in 1921, becoming the first licensed African-American female aviator.

It was a remarkable achievement, in part because she had never been outside of the United States before going to France. Coleman should serve as a role model for all of us. She is a fitting example of the value and importance of international education.

The United States has celebrated International Education Week every November for the past four years--part of a joint initiative of the U.S. Departments of State and Education to make international education integral to U.S. higher education. However, the evidence is compelling that the effort has faltered. The enrollment of foreign students and scholars is declining, and U.S. students of all ages continue to lack language competency and a deep understanding of other people and cultures. This comes at a time when the United States is widely considered the world's lone superpower. America's economy, military dominance and pervasive pop culture have the power to affect the lives of citizens around the globe. That said, the international education statistics for the 2004-2005 academic year should alarm all educators.

For decades, the United States has been considered the destination of choice for foreign scholars. Historically, international students have returned to their home countries prepared to become future leaders. Regardless where they return to, their intimate understanding of the people, history and culture of America has helped them maintain goodwill towards this country. That has changed since Sept. 11, however. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the government has imposed restrictive visa procedures that require personal interviews with a foreign service officer. That often means a long trip to a U.S. embassy or consulate and a fee that must be paid in U.S. dollars. Not only is the fee a burden for poorer students, the new restrictions have foreign students worried that if they return home for a visit, they may not be allowed back into the country to continue their education.

Canada, which recently introduced a national policy to attract foreign students, has experienced a 7 percent enrollment increase. …