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Why students are choosing to go to college in Canada instead of the United States

CNBC logo CNBC 8/12/2017 Abigail Hess
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Students from all over the world apply to attend America's colleges and universities, but one country is now more popular than ever with international applicants — Canada.

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers surveyed over 250 American colleges and universities and found that 39 percent of Americans schools witnessed a decline in international applications in the last year.

Canadian schools, on the other hand, have seen a dramatic increase in applications from abroad. For example, Wilfrid Laurier University reported 32 percent increase in applications from abroad, McMaster University reported a 33 percent increase and the University of Toronto (Canada's top-ranked and largest university) saw a 20 increase.

When Leigh-Ellen Keating, director of international services at Brock University in Ontario, attended a recruitment fair in Mexico, she saw first-hand how drastically Canada's popularity had increased. She told Inside Higher Ed, "The table was flooded with people, which is not historically what I have seen. They just want to go to Canada, and historically I think a lot of them would go to the States."

Student recruitment professionals attribute the decline in applications to the United States to concern about visa policy. According to The Washington Post, the Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal that would require foreign students to reapply for permission to study in the United States every year they attend school.

Some students are choosing to go to school in The Great White North because of cost. Maddie Zeif, an 18-year-old from Vermont, decided to attend the University of British Columbia because it was the most cost-efficient option. She told The Times, "I will be paying almost the same amount as my in-state tuition without factoring in any financial aid yet."

The average cost for an international student to attend a public university in Canada is approximately $17,264. The cost for international students to study at a four-year public college in the United States is $24,930 and it is incredibly rare for international students to receive financial aid in the United States.

International student Anh Cao was the University of Toronto valedictorian for the class of 2015.<br /> © Provided by CNBC International student Anh Cao was the University of Toronto valedictorian for the class of 2015.

Many higher-education professionals attribute the shift in popularity to the "Trump Effect," suggesting that President Donald Trump's criticisms of foreigners is causing students to choose Canada over the United States.

Alan Shepard, president of Concordia University in Quebec told The New York Times, "The so-called Trump Effect is real when it comes to enrollment in Canada. Applications from international students for this coming fall's semester have surged."

"Our political climate appeared to be the problem," says Dennis Hanno, president of Wheaton College in Massachusetts. "If this is a trend, it is worrisome."

University of British Columbia<br /> © Provided by CNBC University of British Columbia

Hanno explains that international students make considerable contributions to American students both financial and otherwise. International students, he says, provide a "significant source of tuition revenue that directly benefits domestic students." Overall, "International students contribute $35 billion to the U.S. economy."

He adds that international perspectives improve the education of American students. "Diversity is an educational asset, and international students are a rich source of meaningful difference," says Hanno.

More broadly, he argues that it is important for the United States to remain a leader in education if it hopes to be a leader in the world. "The world's view of the United States as a land of opportunity is based, in no small measure, on the possibilities that our colleges and universities create," he writes.

Don't miss: This is the age most Americans pay off their student loans

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