American openness also can stoke perceptions, says Jonathan Weller, director of international admissions at the University of Cincinnati. American colleges are required by law to publicly report crime statistics.

THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION

International Students Increasingly Ask: Is It Safe to Study in the U.S.?

It’s decision time for Chinese students planning to study in the United States this fall, and Stacy Palestrant, an independent college counselor in Beijing, has been meeting these past few weeks with families weighing admissions offers.

One issue raised again and again, says Ms. Palestrant, who advises students applying to top-flight American colleges, is, How safe will my child be studying in America?

The death of a Chinese graduate student, Lingzi Lu, in last week’s Boston Marathon bombings has received extensive coverage in China. Social media there have erupted both with memorials to Ms. Lu and handwringing over whether families in China’s burgeoning middle class should feel secure in continuing to send their children to be educated in the United States, as they have done in increasing numbers in recent years.

Few experts believe that the Boston attacks will cause the 194,000 Chinese—or 764,500 international—students now studying on American campuses to pack their bags. Nor do they anticipate the bombings will lead future foreign enrollments to plummet.

But Ms. Lu’s death and the grave injuries to a fellow Chinese student are focusing new attention on what has become a mounting concern. When the British Council, Britain’s educational and cultural-relations agency, polled students around the world in 2012 about the most important factors in choosing a country in which to study, safety ranked among the top five. In the same survey conducted just five years earlier, it had barely registered.

A “safety school,” notes a report by the council on the survey data, once referred to a less academically selective institution. “For many prospective international students today the ‘safe choice’ refers not to a back-up plan but to the destination they perceive to be the safest.”

This increasing awareness comes as more students, and particularly more undergraduates, travel outside their home countries to earn a college degree.

Perceptions of Violence

The Boston attacks aren’t the first time that violence on American soil has unfolded practically in real time, with the world watching. Nor would this be the first time American colleges felt repercussions of high-profile terror. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there was a sharp decline in international enrollments as families opted for destinations perceived to be less risky. But after just a few years, the declines reversed and international numbers rebounded. (Another factor in that reversal: The U.S. government loosened student-visa restrictions put in place after the September 11 attacks.)

On the other hand, Australian universities have never fully recovered from a spate of attacks several years ago against Indian students that led their numbers to drop.

Even before the bombings in Boston, a series of high-profile mass shootings, at an elementary school in Connecticut and a movie theater in Colorado, as well as the deaths of two University of Southern California graduate students from China in an apparent robbery raised concerns abroad about safety in the United States.

Bob Gilmour runs an academic and English-language center at Oregon State University that enrolls large numbers of Chinese students. On the day of the Boston attacks, he was returning from a 12-day, six-city trip to China. Mr. Gilmour, who previously held a similar position at a British university, says he was surprised by the regularity with which he was asked by Chinese parents about gun violence, a question he didn’t get in his former job.

Indeed, Secretary of State John Kerry has even weighed in on foreign-student safety. In an interview at the conclusion of a round-the-world trip this month, he said that international students, particularly those from Japan, his final stop, were “scared” of gun violence in the United States.

Although Mr. Kerry may have overstated the case by asserting that overseas students “don’t come” to America because of fears about personal safety, his observations reflect discussions happening among families abroad, educators say.

It’s not just news reports that feed this impression, says Parke Muth, a former director of international admissions at the University of Virginia who now works as a consultant. “Hollywood makes the U.S. look like a killing zone every night,” he says, noting that popular American television shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation are widely available in China and elsewhere.

American openness also can stoke perceptions, says Jonathan Weller, director of international admissions at the University of Cincinnati. American colleges are required by law to publicly report crime statistics. In the wake of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, many have developed rapid-alert systems to notify students and staff members by text message or telephone of potentially dangerous situations as they unfold. “Everyone else doesn’t do it the way we do,” Mr. Weller says.

‘They Can’t Take the Risk’

When Sean Yu, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, was applying to American colleges, his mother exhaustively researched news reports for details about past crimes on or near the campuses he was considering. Violent crime is comparatively rare in China, and Chinese parents have reason to be protective, says Mr. Yu, who comes from Beijing: “We have the one-child policy. They can’t take the risk.”

Still, when Mr. Yu was making his college choice, the most important factor in his selection was academic reputation. Even in the current climate, families of foreign students don’t view safety in a vacuum, Mr. Muth says. “Is there a chance that students will turn down Harvard just because it is Boston? Not a chance in the world.”

Ms. Palestrant, the counselor in Beijing, doubts few of her students would choose not to study in the United States, not after preparing to do so for many months. But she wonders if the bombings could affect their behavior in more subtle ways. For instance, one student told Ms. Palestrant that her grandmother had warned her to avoid large crowds, such as at rallies or sporting events, when she goes to America.

Others might choose colleges in areas perceived as safer. A guidance counselor at one Beijing high school says he’s already seen evidence of that, with one senior opting at the last minute to study in Maine rather than Boston and another changing his college of choice from Philadelphia to small-town Illinois.

Likewise, colleges are thinking about how to tackle questions about safety if and when they arise during future international recruiting trips. Oregon State already highlights the safety of its bucolic campus in its admissions materials. For urban institutions like Cincinnati, much of the crime affecting students happens not on the campus but in the surrounding neighborhoods. The university is trying to deal with the issue head-on by giving students practical safety tips and making them aware of campus resources, such as a late-night shuttle, to help avoid risky situations.

 

YNN.com       4/30/2013      By LeAnn Wallace

Campus gun debate resurrected with firearms-in-vehicles bill

The Texas State Senate approved a bill Tuesday which would allow college students to keep a concealed handgun in their vehicles while on school grounds. Some who opposed the bill, however, worry it’s just part of a bigger plan to lift rules against guns in college classrooms.

Teachers, faculty and visitors are already allowed to store handguns in their vehicles while on campus. The bill would extend that right to students who have a concealed handgun license.

The bill’s author, Sen. Glenn Hegar, said it’s just about leveling the playing field. “Everyone can, except for the students at that campus, and to me that’s discriminatory. I just think that’s unfair,” Sen. Glenn Hegar said.

But some argued guns don’t belong on campus, even when stored in cars. “If they get upset or if they have ill will towards someone, all they have to do is walk over and get the gun,” Sen. Jose Rodriguez said.

Sen. Hegar said no law on paper will stop a criminal who has ill will. “If a criminal wants to walk onto a campus, they want to walk into a restaurant, they want to walk into a place, a law isn’t going to stop them unfortunately,” Hegar said.

Before the Senate approved the bill in a 27-4 vote, supporters of the measure assured those wary of the bill they wouldn’t tack on any amendments that would lift the ban on guns everywhere else on campus, including classrooms.  The bill now awaits action from the House.

Posted By Joshua Keating   Wednesday, April 24, 2013 – 1:23 PM   from FP ForeignPolicy.com

Are students afraid to study in the United States?

After I blogged a story a couple of weeks ago about the declining number of Chinese grad students choosing U.S. universities, a couple of readers suggested that fears about safety after recent violent incidents in the U.S. might be related. I thought the idea was a little farfetched. But Secretary of State John Kerry, at least, seemed to think this is something to worry about, during an appearance in Japan last week:

“We had an interesting discussion about why fewer students are coming to, particularly from Japan, to study in the United States, and one of the responses I got from our officials from conversations with parents here is that they’re actually scared. They think they’re not safe in the United States and so they don’t come,” Kerry said.  He noted Japan’s restrictive gun laws – which prevent private ownership of nearly all firearms, including handguns – and said the country was safer “where people are not running around with guns.”

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education today, asks whether recent incidents including the killing of Chinese grad student Lu Lingzi at the Boston Marathon and the murder of two Chinese USC students last year will lead parents and students to think twice about study in the United States:

Even before the bombings in Boston, a series of high-profile mass shootings, at an elementary school in Connecticut and a movie theater in Colorado, as well as the deaths of two University of Southern California graduate students from China in an apparent robbery raised concerns abroad about safety in the United States.

Bob Gilmour runs an academic and English-language center at Oregon State University that enrolls large numbers of Chinese students. On the day of the Boston attacks, he was returning from a 12-day, six-city trip to China. Mr. Gilmour, who previously held a similar position at a British university, says he was surprised by the regularity with which he was asked by Chinese parents about gun violence, a question he didn’t get in his former job.[…]

American openness also can stoke perceptions, says Jonathan Weller, director of international admissions at the University of Cincinnati. American colleges are required by law to publicly report crime statistics. In the wake of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, many have developed rapid-alert systems to notify students and staff members by text message or telephone of potentially dangerous situations as they unfold. “Everyone else doesn’t do it the way we do,” Mr. Weller says.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be much more than anecdotal evidence to indicate that safety concerns are discouraging students from studying in America (though British surveys show that safety is an increasingly important factor when students choose a country for study-abroad) and as one admissions director quoted in the Chronicle story puts it, students and parents probably aren’t going to turn down Harvard just because it’s in Boston.

But one downside of the fact that violence in the United States gets a disproportionate amount of international media coverage is that the country can often seem scarier than it really is from the outside.

 

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