International students carry their national flags at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.
International students carry their national flags at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.

A Trump administration recommendation that colleges and universities ignore race in the admissions process is unlikely to impact international students, educators say.

"I don't think that it's going to have much, if any, impact on international students," said Scott Schneider, a New Orleans-based higher education lawyer.

"We don't see the forthcoming guidance as having any impact on our policies or as causing us to change our practices," New York University spokesman John Beckman said.

Most schools do not include international students in their diversity statistics. Ethnicity is typically listed as African-American or Hispanic-American, for example, not Nigerian or Pakistani.

"College administrators frequently code the race/ethnicity of foreign nationals simply as 'foreign' without specifying a race group," a 2004 study from Princeton University found.

Kennedy program

Affirmative action started in the 1960s when President John F. Kennedy directed government programs to ensure that people of all races were treated equally. Colleges and universities began recruiting racial minority students to ensure campus diversity. But educators and others argued that economic background, race and gender affected how students performed in school, especially on standardized tests.

Studies show that students from mainly white and prosperous communities test and perform better than students in poorer, racially diverse neighborhoods. White males in wealthier school districts perform better in math than other students, such as females and minorities, according to a recent study by Stanford University

Former President Barack Obama reaffirmed affirmative action when he issued policy that guided schools to use race in deciding college and university admissions between 2011 and 2016. President Donald Trump's new guidelines reverse those policies.

Since affirmative action was established, nonminority students have questioned whether the policies equaled reverse discrimination. A student's chances should be based on merit, they argue. Others argue that economic background should be considered to enhance diversity outside race.

"Higher education should promote diversity and inclusion, which includes racial diversity," said Esther Brimmer, executive director of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. "Colleges and universities have found many different ways to do so."

The specific guidelines and enforcement of the new Trump policies remain murky, lawyer Schneider said.

"Let's wait and see what the guidance is going to say, No. 1, and No. 2, will the change in policy also be coupled with a change in enforcement priorities?" Schneider asked.

Federal aid

Under the new guidelines, if schools continue to consider race in their admissions process, their federal funding could be pulled — including money for financial aid, which would increase the financial burden students bear, Schneider said.

He explained that, if schools disagree with the guidelines, they could sue. But that is unlikely, he said, because federal funding is threatened. "Most schools just go, 'We'll sign the consent decree.'"

The removal of guidelines on the use of race in admissions affects all levels of education, not just college.

A news release from the departments of Education and Justice calls for removing guidance formerly used to explain the legal framework that governs the use of race in elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.

The documents were removed because they are "inconsistent with governing principles for agency guidance documents," according to the news release.

"This is an extraordinarily cynical move by Secretary [of Education Betsy] DeVos," said Gina Chirichigno, director of the National Coalition on School Diversity. DeVos "knows that taking down the guidance doesn't change the law in any way, but it is likely to confuse school districts that are trying to comply with the law."