Emory University’s recent designation of Goizueta Business School’s Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree as STEM is a strategic step aimed at aiding international students in extending their U.S. residency post-graduation. The policy, however, has prompted discussion about the essence of STEM and highlights the restrictive visa policies that oblige international students to navigate a STEM path for an extended American sojourn. Although this shift has direct relevance to the international community at Emory, the University’s announcement did not overtly focus on this group, subtly hinting at broader strategic motives behind the reclassification. 

Categorizing the BBA degree under STEM is less of a breakthrough and more of a temporary fix for a flawed federal policy that forces universities to circumvent national laws prioritizing STEM students. The current U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy requires international students with an F-1 visa to hold a STEM degree for a three-year work permit under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. In contrast, humanities majors are only granted a one-year OPT. Goizueta broadened the definition of STEM by adding additional required business school courses on the intersection of data analysis and business. This allows Emory international students majoring in business to apply for this extended visa and stay in the United States longer.

Offering extended OPT status only to STEM students establishes an implicit academic hierarchy and sends a clear message to international students that they will not be rewarded for their contributions to the humanities. This policy’s harmful effect expands further than disincentivizing some international students’ educational efforts of some international students. Prioritizing STEM students over humanities students actually undermines America’s interests and contributes to shortages in fields like education and law by prematurely expelling prospective immigrants who could make great contributions to the country. 

The importance of bright minds in STEM should not be discounted, as U.S. national security and economic prosperity depend on keeping pace with ever-increasing efforts by foreign adversaries to assert technological, intellectual and military dominance. A system that allows graduates in STEM fields to stay in the United States after their formal education ends is not the subject of scrutiny here — it is the denial of this opportunity for humanities students that is imprudent and unfair. 

Like STEM graduates’ contributions to the workforce, humanities graduates’ labor is also a vital resource. However, research from the National Center for Education Statistics shows the number of graduates from humanities majors has declined by 29.6% between 2012 and 2020. This drop has direct implications for fields such as education and law that are in dire need of more professionals.

Accepting immigrants of all kinds — college students or not — benefits humanitarian causes as well as bolsters the U.S. economy. These economic benefits become even more pronounced when discussing exclusively college-educated prospective immigrants, who are projected to add $233 billion in wages to the economy this decade if they remain in the United States.

The approach of simply designating academic programs as STEM for convenience is a problematic testament to an education system bending to accommodate a flawed immigration policy rather than challenging it. International students deserve to be valued for their diverse contributions, irrespective of their field of study. This is not just a policy issue but also a devaluation of diversity in academia. Emory has the capacity to champion a more inclusive approach that proactively supports an array of humanities and non-STEM majors by advocating for equitable immigration provisions for international students across all majors. This change resists the trend of valuing academic disciplines solely for their immigration advantages.

The need of the hour is not just to find temporary solutions but to rethink and reform restrictive laws. University officials must acknowledge the challenges faced by international students and actively work to provide resources and solutions that go beyond reclassification. Goizueta currently hosts two seminars per semester on the process of obtaining Curricular Practical Training and OPT for international students. Such efforts should be expanded to all of Emory’s schools.

Moreover, addressing financial barriers is crucial. The OPT program, vital for international students seeking work experience in the United States, comes with a $410 filing fee. This fee poses an undue burden for lower-income international students, many of whom rely on merit scholarships or student loans to attend Emory. Emory should help ease the financial strain on these students as part of a broader commitment to its international student body. As a commitment to alleviate these burdens, it is crucial that the resources found in Emory’s International Student and Scholar Services website are not only available but also prominently displayed and easily accessible. International students should not have to search extensively for essential information on maintaining their immigration status in the United States. Additionally, Emory should pioneer a mentorship program that connects international students with alumni who have successfully navigated the work visa process. Such initiatives, alongside the exploration of partnerships with corporations to facilitate work visa sponsorship, would ensure that students are not only financially supported but also well-guided through the intricate processes and timelines associated with securing work authorization in the United States.

Emory, as a distinguished educational institution, should lead the charge in challenging and reforming the existing policies. It is not enough to find temporary fixes. More decisive steps will demonstrate a commitment not to abstract ideals but to tangible progress that directly benefits the international student community.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Marc Goedemans, Sophia Hoar, Carson Kindred, Justin Leach, Eliana Liporace, Lola McGuire, Shruti Nemala, Sara Pérez, Maddy Prucha, Jaanaki Radhakrishnan and Ilka Tona. 

+ posts

The Editorial Board is the official voice of the Emory Wheel and is editorially separate from the Wheel's board of editors.