New International Graduate Applications Decline 4%

New enrollments of international students at U.S. graduate schools declined by 1 percent from fall 2017 to fall 2018.

February 11, 2019
 

New enrollments of international students at U.S. graduate schools fell for the second year in a row, according to a survey from the Council of Graduate Schools.

First-time international enrollments fell by 1 percent from fall 2017 to fall 2018, following on a 1 percent decline the year before that.

“This is the first time we’ve seen declines across two consecutive years, and while we think it’s too soon to consider this a trend, it is troubling,” Suzanne Ortega, president of CGS, said in a statement. “We continue to monitor issues, including changes in immigration and visa policy, with growing concern over the possible negative impact to the U.S.’s image as a welcoming destination for international students and scholars.”

The overall decline in first-time international graduate enrollments was due to drops at the master's level. The number of new international students enrolled in master's programs declined by 2 percent, while first-time enrollment at the doctoral level increased by 3 percent.

Less research-intensive universities -- many of which have come to rely on international students in master's programs as a key source of revenue -- were hit hardest by the decline in new international master's students. First-time international enrollment in master's programs fell by 15 percent at master's-level institutions, and by 8 percent at doctorate-granting institutions outside of those classified as most research intensive. At doctoral universities with the highest research activity, first-time international enrollment in master's programs actually rose by 1 percent.

The number of international students enrolled in engineering programs -- the most popular field for international students -- declined by 10 percent, following on a 10 percent decline the year before and a 3 percent decline the year before that. First-time international enrollments also fell in public administration and services, by 27 percent, and in the physical sciences, by 13 percent.

First-time enrollments from the No. 1-sending country, China, stayed steady, while the number of new students coming from the No. 2 country, India, fell by 2 percent, marking the third straight year of declines in new Indian students. China and India together account for about 60 percent of all international graduate students in the U.S.

For other groups of students, the base of students is smaller. The number of new students from the Middle East and North Africa -- who account for 7 percent of international students in the U.S. -- declined by 12 percent, also the third straight year of declines in new students from that region.

There was an 8 percent decrease in the number of new international students from Iran, which follows on a 16 percent decrease the year before that. Iran is one of the countries affected by the Trump administration's travel ban. While earlier versions of the travel ban prohibited Iranian students and scholars from coming to the U.S. altogether, the current version of the ban permits Iranians to enter the U.S. on F, J or M student or exchange visitor visas. All other groups of Iranians are barred from entering the U.S.

Other notable shifts in first-time enrollments include a 5 percent increase in the number of first-time international students from sub-Saharan Africa -- which builds on a 27 percent gain the year before that -- a 5 percent gain from Latin America and the Caribbean, and a 3 percent drop in the number from Europe. There were significant declines in the number coming from Japan, down 15 percent, and Saudi Arabia, down 21 percent. The decline from Saudi Arabia is likely attributable in part to reductions in the Saudi government's foreign scholarship program.

In addition to the data on first-time enrollments, CGS also surveyed institutions about applications, and found that the total number of applications submitted by prospective international graduate students fell by 4 percent from fall 2017 to fall 2018. As with first-time international enrollments, this marked the second year of declines in international applications and came on top of a 3 percent decline from fall 2016 to fall 2017.

The fields seeing the biggest declines in international applications were engineering (down 16 percent), physical and earth sciences (down 9 percent), and business (down 8 percent).

Though there were declines in both first-time international enrollments and applications for programs in engineering, CGS's associate vice president for research and policy analysis, Hironao Okahana, pointed out that there were increases in both these metrics for mathematics and computer sciences, a field that can overlap with computer engineering. The numbers of international applications and first-time international enrollments in mathematics and computer science programs both increased by 6 percent from fall 2017 to 2018.

A total of 369 institutions responded to CGS's survey, reflecting a 47.4 percent response rate. Below are data tables from the CGS showing annual changes in first-time international enrollments at U.S. graduate schools across the last six years, broken down by region or country of origin and field of study.

First-Time International Enrollments at U.S. Graduate Schools, by Region or Country of Origin

  Fall 2012 to Fall 2013 Fall 2013 to Fall 2014 Fall 2014 to Fall 2015 Fall 2015 to Fall 2016 Fall 2016 to Fall 2017 Fall 2017 to Fall 2018
Overall +10% +8% +5% +5% -1% -1%
Asia -- -- +7% +8% -2% 0%
China +5% -1% +12% 0% +5% 0%
India +40% +27% +12% -7% -13% -2%
Japan -- -- -- -- +3% -15%
South Korea -12% -7% +5% +10% -12% -4%
Taiwan -8% -8% +2% +14% +10% +1%
Europe +3% +1% -4% +8% +1% -3%
Latin America & Caribbean -- -- -6% +5% -10% +5%
Brazil +17% +91% -30% -9% +18% -3%
Mexico -2% +8% +6% +12% -10% -1%
Middle East and North Africa -- -- +1% -11% -5% -12%
Iran -- -- -- -- -16% -8%
Saudi Arabia -- -- +5% -13% -2% -21%
North America (Canada only) +3% -1% +1% -3% -7% +6%
Oceania -- -- -9% +7% -6% -10%
Sub-Saharan Africa -- -- +9% +3% +27% +5%

First-Time International Enrollments at U.S. Graduate Schools, by Field of Study

  Fall 2012 to Fall 2013 Fall 2013 to Fall 2014 Fall 2014 to Fall 2015 Fall 2015 to Fall 2016 Fall 2016 to Fall 2017 Fall 2017 to Fall 2018
Overall +10% +8% +5% +5% -1% -1%
Arts & Humanities +9% +3% +5% +6% -12% 0%
Biological & Agricultural Sciences -- -- +1% +2% -1% -2%
Business +6% +2% +2% +7% -11% +1%
Education +3% -1% 0% +7% -16% -4%
Engineering +17% +11% +1% -3% -10% -10%
Health Sciences -- -- -5% -14% +3% +3%
Mathematics and Computer Sciences -- -- +11% +4% +2% +6%
Physical and Earth Sciences -- -- +6% -3% -1% -13%
Public Administration and Services -- -- +4 +7% +4 -27%
Social and Behavioral Sciences -- -- +1% +9% 0% 0%
Other Fields +7% +2% +7% +11% +4% +6%

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