Foreign Policy Blogs

Interview: NAFSA's Hopes for the Next US President

NAFSA: Association of International Educators is a non-profit, professional association of international educators dedicated to promoting international education in America and worldwide. US International education centers around two flows: foreign students travelling to the US to study and experience American life, and American students travelling abroad to study and experience living abroad.

Recently, we have seen the number of international students coming to the US shrinking. This is due to both stricter visa policies, and the weakening of the US “brand” around the world. As much as international education has always been a component of public diplomacy, it becomes ever more dependent on the success of US public diplomacy efforts now.

NAFSA has launched an advocacy campaign aimed at educating the US Presidential candidates on how to bring these flows back to a healthy pace. To find out more about NAFSA's efforts, and how international education plays a role in US Public Diplomacy, I conversed with the Director of Media Relations at NAFSA's headquarters in Washington, DC.

FPA: What role does international education play in US foreign policy? More specifically, how is it linked to America's image in the world?

NAFSA: To be effective, US foreign policy must be underpinned by a strong foundation for dialogue and collaboration with other nations.   Building the international knowledge and cross-cultural skills of Americans through study abroad and foreign-language and area studies; and attracting the international students and scholars who are the world's next generation of leaders and innovators, are key ways we can build that foundation.  Over time, these person-to-person ties of understanding, personal experience, and mutual respect contribute enormously to America's ability to know the world and to the world's ability to know America. Fostering and sustaining these long-term relationships is at the heart of public diplomacy, we believe, and it is the essence of international education.

FPA: What are NAFSA's most important concerns regarding the next U.S. President?

NAFSA: The next US president will need to act deliberately to address serious concerns about America's standing on the global stage: its global leadership and its perceived international legitimacy. We believe the next president should act quickly and decisively to leverage the considerable strengths of international education in addressing these challenges.

FPA: What efforts does NAFSA have underway to help make international education a priority of the next administration?

NAFSA: We are committed to engaging the presidential candidates and the American public on the importance of international education, and to putting forward NAFSA's policy proposals for their consideration. At our annual conference in Washington, DC, in late May‚ attracts 8,000 international educators from around the world‚ advisors to the presidential campaigns will have an opportunity to speak to our attendees about how the next president might leverage international education to address U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy challenges.

FPA: Which candidates have been or seem to be most open to making international education a priority in their foreign policy?

NAFSA: NAFSA is a nonpartisan organization and we do not endorse or focus on specific candidates. While each of the candidates has noted America's declining global image, they have not put forward detailed plans on the issue of public diplomacy. We very much hope they will and that those plans will include an integral role for international education.  We stand ready to work with the transition team of whichever candidate is elected to put forward our best thinking and to help them establish a proactive national strategy to restore US competitiveness for foreign students and scholars and to ensure that American students are internationally educated.    

FPA: How do you envision the international education policy you speak of in NAFSA's recent policy brief playing out in the next administration? Who needs the directive to do what, exactly?

NAFSA: We call on the next president of the United States to announce a major initiative on international education that will increase our country's understanding of and capacity to communicate with the world; and to strengthen America's international relationships. This policy should be coordinated by a White House official designated by the president.  An international education policy should have these goals:  to restore America's status as a magnet for international students and scholars; to establish study abroad as an integral component of U.S. undergraduate education; to increase Americans’ international literacy through the internationalization of American education at all levels; and to strengthen and increase the availability of citizen and community-based international exchange and service programs.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.