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Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary ECA, US Dept. of State

Sitting down with The PIE during NAFSA, Assistant Secretary Marie Royce spoke about the Department’s efforts to promote inbound and outbound mobility and its support for the #youarewelcomehere campaign.


Photo: The PIE News

For ECA, international education, inbound and outbound, is the number one priority

The PIE: Is the US retaining its competitiveness in the global international education sector?

Marie Royce: The US remains the number one destination in the world, and we are so proud of the fact that for the last three years we have welcomed over 1 million international students to the United States, with a 1.5% increase last year.

“We are just at the tip of the iceberg for our capacity”

Not only do we want inbound students, but we also want our students to go to other countries to study and have an international experience. American students abroad share our culture and values, and they are also a great recruitment tool, encouraging international students to want to study in the U.S.

We are just at the tip of the iceberg for our capacity. We have 4700 universities and community colleges in the US, so there are a lot of opportunities there, including something we feel very strongly about, which is promoting community colleges.

The PIE: Can you expand on this point?

MR: The State Department is promoting the 2+2 model, which really is a wonderful way of promoting higher education by reducing the cost for the student. There are so many benefits. One is that you can live in two places in the US, and if your English proficiency is not high you can go to a community college and start off there before going to university.

And then, of course, the cost. We hear from so many people that the number one concern for international students is the cost of higher education, so the 2+2 really helps. And I know a lot of people that have started out in community college and gone on to a doctorate. We, for example, have Fulbright executive directors around the world that have done exactly that.

“When we talk about diversity: we really do have it in the US”

There is one story I would like to share: we had the Fulbright rebrand launch last week at the Senate, and we asked one of our Fulbrighters to speak. She took 10 years to go through a community college because she was working and going to school in Kentucky. She had a project she wanted to work on, she wrote her application and she was not accepted the first time, and so she tried again, and she succeeded. Her focus was on the area of maths and science. Her co-workers were so amazed. They said: “How could you get this? You are not from Harvard, you are not from Yale.”

But she said that this is what is truly great about the US – this real meritocracy. Here she is, working her way through community college, and winning a Fulbright Scholarship. She spoke extemporaneously at the Senate about this experience.

When we talk about diversity: we really do have it in the US. We have it in all forms. Geographic diversity, types of students, diversity of majors, of people, and I think this is truly a great feature of our culture. I think that’s one of the most unique things we have to offer.

The PIE: Do you think the increase in SEVIS fees will impact international recruitment?

MR: There is no appropriation for SEVIS – the only money they get is based on fees, and there hasn’t been an increase since 2008. And the increased fee will really work to improve capacity in oversight. I am hopeful that it won’t have much of an impact, but really there hasn’t been an increase since 2008, that’s keeping up with inflation.

“I am hopeful that [the SEVIS fee increase] won’t have much of an impact”

The PIE: What about trends and plans for outbound mobility?

MR: I think the number of outbound students will continue to grow. We are making international education a priority. We are continuing to promote what we call capacity building grants – this morning I announced the fact that we have 120 universities that applied, and 21 universities were awarded $35,000 to help students navigate opportunities to study overseas. Today I recognised the schools working with these grants to make students aware of opportunities – and creating opportunities.

For ECA, international education, inbound and outbound, is the number one priority. We want to diversify destinations for students – both inbound and outbound.

There are about 200 universities which have a large student population out of the over 4000 institutions we have in the US. I represent the US often, chairing education bilateral meetings, so every time I am out speaking to the representative of another country, I am ensuring that we have strong agreements and awareness campaigns on both sides for our students to go outbound, but also for their students to come to study in the US.

There is definitely a rigorous plan around it at the ECA to encourage diversification of inbound and outbound mobility.

“I would say the Bureau supports #Youarewelcomehere – it’s a value that we all strongly support”

The PIE: Do you support #Youarewelcomehere campaign?

MR: Yes, I strongly support that. Being a representative of the administration and the ECA, I can’t tell you how much I really welcome students. I was an international educator. I taught at university, I had international students, and I know what they bring to the classroom. Students learn from each other. So I would say the Bureau supports #Youarewelcomehere – it’s a value that we all strongly support.

The PIE: How would you comment on NAFSA’s report outlining the damage declining new international enrolment could have on the US economy? The report relays that institutions report that prospective international students and their families are concerned about US federal policies and rhetoric on immigration, along with apprehensions of personal safety. 

MR: The NAFSA report reiterates the importance of maintaining US global leadership in welcoming international students, a goal the Department of State strongly supports. The number of international students coming to study in the United States has more than doubled in the past two decades.  International education is the nation’s fifth largest service export.  This is a testament to the excellence, dynamism and diversity of our US higher education system. We appreciate international students for the contributions they make to our classrooms and communities, and the lifelong relationships formed that benefit US relations with countries all around the world.

“We as a nation must work hard to retain our position as the top host of international students”

On the question about visas, I want to emphasise that most student visas are issued.  That is one of the many reasons we encourage students to speak with EducationUSA advisors and Consular Affairs staff at the nearest US Embassy or Consulate who can help students better understand the visa process in their home country. Additionally, we encourage students to apply as early as possible to ensure that their visa is processed in time for the start date of their academic program.

The Department of State is committed to remaining the top host nation and to communicating to prospective students through our EducationUSA network the quality and value of our 4,700 accredited colleges and universities. We recognise that international students are presented with an ever-growing array of options for study, and we as a nation must work hard to retain our position as the top host of international students.  We take the safety of international students very seriously, as do US institutions around the country which are committed to making their campuses and communities safe for both domestic and international students.


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