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September 11 Attacks Have Mixed Impact on US College Enrollment - 2002-01-15

This is the height of the college application season in the United States. Many U.S. universities are evaluating the economic impact the September terrorist attacks might have on U.S. admissions trends.

Forty percent of the applicants to next year's freshman class at Louisiana's Tulane University say the terrorist attacks made them want to go to college close to their homes.

According to Kenyon College Admissions Director John Anderson, students seem to want to be able to drive to college. "Our applications from Ohio, our home state, are up about 40 percent," he said, "which is a dramatic increase, and if we were to include a seven-hour driving ratio around Ohio, we have seen an increase of between 10 [to] 20 percent."

More than half a million foreign students come to study in the United States each year, paying $12.3 billion in annual tuition fees. Concerns that the terrorist attacks might curtail their numbers have not panned out.

Some colleges are reporting application declines, but others that actively recruit international students, like Connecticut College, anticipate increases.

According to Pat Burak, International Students director at Syracuse University in New York State, most of the fears she had in September have not been realized. "We thought we would see a decline in enrollment," she said. "We thought many students would return home. But instead, we have seen a steady number of new student applications."

Ms. Burak believes a positive campus-wide attitude toward foreign students in the emotional wake of the terrorist attacks played a major role. "I think most of my colleagues across the country have had similar experiences," she said. "The campus has been overwhelmingly supportive. We had phone calls asking 'Are your students from the Middle East okay? Is anyone harassing them?' I have been so proud of our community, looking at how they cared about the international students."

Mr. Anderson says Kenyon College, and many others, are reporting the attacks have stimulated increases in enrollments in courses on the Middle East and in Arabic language training. "I think their feeling of a need to know has increased dramatically," he said. "We have seen some good enrollments in courses that have to do with Islam for this coming semester."

Mr. Anderson considers that an appropriate academic response, knowledge rather than ignorance, understanding rather than fear.