Education

Are U.S. students really fleeing to the Great White North?

American applications to select Maritime universities doubling, recruiters say

Canadian campuses in the Maritimes may soon host more American students than ever before.   Mathew Kahansky

Admissions staff at some Maritime universities are seeing more applications from Americans — a trend that was first noticed at significantly larger institutions.

The University of King’s College, St. Francis Xavier University, Mount Saint Vincent University and Acadia University all say they are seeing at least double the amount of American applications that they have in previous years.

The increased online interest in Canadian schools initially sparked during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and site visits peaked the day after his election. Now, it seems the web interest is more concrete, as American students take the time and money to fill out applications and pay fees.

However, website views and application fees don’t necessarily guarantee an American student will move to Canada.

“We have seen a spike in applications,” says Scott Roberts, executive director of communications and marketing at Acadia, in an email. “But applications are not registrations, so we won’t know if there’s a change until next September.”

Mount Allison University was the only school to share specific application statistics.

Communications Officer Aloma Jardine says Mount Allison has received an average of 39 American applications by Jan. 24 for the past five years — this year included.

But, Mount Allison is still seeing increased activity in other forms. The number of applications started online — but not yet completed — jumped by about 40 per cent in the days following the American election.

Maritime schools seeing increased American interest are significantly smaller than schools already reporting increased applications, such as the University of Toronto and McMaster University. That means that while East Coast schools may be seeing twice the applications they usually do, the shift may not be as dramatic as the comparative Ontarian behemoths.

King’s enrols just over 1,000 students each year, whereas Mount Allison has around 2,400. St. Francis Xavier, Mount Saint Vincent and Acadia all enrol less than 5,000 students each.

“At the moment, we have about twice as many (U.S. applications) as we did last year at this time,” says Catherine Read, awards and information coordinator with the King’s registrar. “I would caution you, however, that the numbers we are looking at are very small, and I would be very hesitant to draw any inferences right now.”

Larger universities, like Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s, did not report increased application figures from American students, despite opposite trends from juggernauts in other parts of the country.

McGill University in Montreal, with an enrolment of almost 30,000 students, experienced a 21 per cent increase in American undergraduate applicants. However, McGill also saw a 13 per cent increase last year, which “suggests there is more at play” than Trump’s presidency, says Kathleen Massey, executive director of the McGill registrar.

“It is possible that the change in the American political landscape may be contributing to the increase, but we cannot confirm this is a trend because we have not surveyed the applicants to ask them directly,” she says.

Other contributing factors drawing American students to Canada could be the comparatively lower cost of tuition, the strength of the American dollar at roughly $1.30 CAD or DOW stocks at an all-time high.

International admissions representatives might be keeping an eye on all these moving parts, but they aren’t necessarily targeting any one topic — however tumultuous — in their recruitment efforts.

“Our international strategy evolves constantly based on market forces,” says Justin Fox, director of recruit and admissions with St. Francis Xavier. “We are watching the U.S. closely to determine how we can best support students in this current period of U.S. transition.”

Until offers of acceptance are submitted by hopeful American university-goers in the coming months, the potential increase in enrolment can’t be determined.

In the meantime, schools are watching to see if the path of the United States’ transition period ends up pushing more students north.