Change of heart keeps foreign students in the U.S.

Cooley Law School feared losing international students to online-only learning directive.
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WMU Cooley Law School President James McGrath said the school and its domestic students benefit from having international students. Courtesy Tom Gennara, Gennara Photography LLC

James McGrath, president of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, is breathing a sigh of relief.

He was one of many education professionals across the country who decided earlier this summer to continue to fully offer online classes through the rest of the year. But educators were then caught off guard when the federal government instituted a new rule requiring international students to go back to their home countries if their schools decided to offer their entire coursework online.

McGrath and others at Cooley were quickly strategizing with other law schools on how they would be able to assist in getting all of Cooley’s international students — numbering 17 across five campuses — to stay in the U.S. and take classes in the fall.

Then news broke earlier this month that the federal government agreed to rescind the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement rules that prohibited international students from staying in the country if their schools turned entirely to online learning, and “we are good to go,” McGrath said.

“I was thinking about some campuses in the middle of the country that do not see people who are from around the world, people who are much different than them,” he said. “It really adds something to their education besides just learning about physics, chemistry and math. It adds a whole new dimension to being a future leader in the community.

“In our law school, we get the benefit of people coming from different countries whose legal system is very different than ours, and that cross-pollination of ideas is really important in developing people, not just people who know the law, but critical thinkers, people who can really compare other models and help decide what should go on in the future with the shaping of our laws.”

He said having those different perspectives is important for everyone.

“I think it is most important at the undergraduate level, but in law school, it is really an amazing benefit to have international students in our classes for our more traditional students to be exposed to people with different backgrounds and different ideas. When we work together and have different backgrounds, we come up with ideas and models that we never would have considered if people (thought) the same way we did.”

The change in the federal government’s decision to not continue with the policy came on the heels of multiple lawsuits.

“The response from the public was very clear that no one was on board with this,” McGrath said. “There were a bunch of different lawsuits and more than 250 colleges signed onto amicus briefs in support of (Harvard and MIT’s) lawsuits. Johns Hopkins University, all of California’s public colleges … all filed lawsuits in their local courts, as well. Twenty-one states sued and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spoke out against the policy, saying it would be an enormous hit to the economy.”

In addition to the cultural diversity that international students bring with them to the U.S., Kim Clarke, an immigration attorney at Varnum in Grand Rapids, said international students are an asset to the country’s economy. Their first major impact is in the tuition they pay. Clarke said they generally pay full out-of-state tuition, which helps with the different programs at their colleges and universities. 

According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students’ tuition fees and living expenses throughout the 2018/2019 school year totaled $41 billion, just behind the top three industries that year — automobiles, commercial aircraft and pharmaceutical.

International students created or supported more than 458,000 U.S. jobs, which is three jobs for every seven international students, according to NAFSA.

According to the website Visual Capitalist, a number of international students who stay in the U.S. become extremely successful entrepreneurs. They include South African native Elon Musk, the founder of Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX, who attended the University of Pennsylvania. Satya Nadella, who is from India, attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago and he is now the CEO of Microsoft.

“We’ve brought scholars from all over the world, the best and the brightest in the world, here to the United States to study and then often those foreign students remain in the U.S. economy and go into all sorts of industries and endeavors,” Clarke said. “They could be scientists, doctors, engineers or businessmen and women.”

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