Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was concerned about the decline in international students studying in the United States because of stringent American visa procedures in a news conference with college journalists Friday.
In a speech and subsequent question-and-answer session, the GW alumnus talked about anti-American sentiment in Europe and declined to directly address rumors that he would leave George W. Bush’s cabinet during the president’s second term.
Powell, who addressed about 25 student journalists at the State Department’s Foggy Bottom complex, said he has made a “major effort” to speed up the student visa application process but acknowledged that foreigners are increasingly choosing to study outside the United States.
“One of the problems we’ve been having is to convince students and the world that they want to come here,” he said.
Foreign student enrollment at America’s graduate schools dropped by 28 percent between 2003 and 2004, according to a Nov. 9 New York Times article. At GW, the number of foreign freshmen increased by 30 students this year, though graduate enrollment dropped slightly.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States began more closely scrutinizing visa applications to weed out terrorists who might try to sneak into the country under the guise of students. The new procedures have resulted in longer wait times for foreign students, some of whom have given up trying to study in the United States.
Powell did not give specifics about how his department has expedited the student application process. One way the State Department has tried to entice foreign students to study in the United States, he said, is through fellowship and scholarship programs.
He mentioned Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who took classes at GW in the mid-1990s, as one of many foreign leaders who benefited from a U.S. education.
“It’s not the education they get here,” he said. “It’s the experience they get here in living in our kind of system.”
Powell’s speech was part of a three-hour-long State Department press briefing for select newspaper editors from colleges in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Before the 30-minute discussion with Powell, journalists heard from State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ererli and veteran CBS News correspondent Charlie Wolfson.
Powell, who earned a master’s degree in business from GW in 1971, made his sole on-campus appearance since becoming secretary of state in September 2003, when he helped formally open the new international affairs building and made a policy address at Lisner Auditorium.
On Friday, a slightly jovial Powell conceded that while the media can sometimes be “annoying” and “makes my life miserable,” a free press is essential for any democracy.
“We believe strongly in a free press,” he said. “Now that’s what you hear everywhere. I for one truly believe it.”
Since Bush’s re-election victory earlier this month, many have speculated that Powell will resign from his post. As if to underscore the media storm surrounding his tenure in the Bush Cabinet, the second question Powell was asked on Friday came from a James Madison University student who simply wondered, “How’s your life going?”
“You must be from the style section,” Powell joked, before issuing his standard response that Bush is still “looking over the Cabinet.”
“He will make known his decision as we go through the process,” said Powell.