Catching Up in International Grad Students

American universities report increases in applications and admission offers, but numbers still haven't reached 2003 levels.
August 28, 2007

Graduate schools are reporting a continued rebound in applications from and admissions offers to those from outside the United States, but levels at most institutions still have not reached 2003 levels, according to a report being released today by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The council conducts a series of surveys of its members each year to track trends in international enrollments, which are crucial to many universities, especially in the sciences. Graduate schools this year are reporting a 9 percent increase in international applications and an 8 percent increase in offers of admission. Both of those figures are down from a year ago, when applications and admissions offers were each up 12 percent. And 78 percent of graduate schools reported that they have fewer international applications than they had in 2003.

Kenneth E. Redd, director of research and policy analysis for the council, said that he was pleased to see the increases, but the slowing of the growth rate -- before the post-9/11 losses have been regained -- was a matter of concern. He said that "we're not quite sure why" the rate of increase is slowing, although he speculated that increased competition from universities in other countries is a key factor.

Of the top countries and regions sending graduate students to the United States, increases were above the overall average. In terms of field of study, life sciences and business saw the greatest increases in applications, but engineering saw the greatest increases in admissions offers.

Changes in Applications and Admissions Offers for Foreign Students, 2006 to 2007

  % Change in Applications % Change in Admissions Offers
Total +9% +8%
Countries or Region    
--China +19% +24%
--India +12% +17%
--South Korea +0% -2%
--Middle East +17% +12%
Field of Study    
--Business +15% +10%
--Education +12% +11%
--Engineering +13% +16%
--Humanities and arts +8% +10%
--Life sciences +18% +11%
--Physical sciences +12% +8%
--Social sciences +0% +4%

Karen DePauw, vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School at Virginia Tech, and chair elect of the Council of Graduate Schools, said she was seeing similar trends at her institution. DePauw said that the numbers suggest that not only the quantity, but quality, of applicants from India and China is going up. A strategy used at Virginia Tech has been to increase ties between faculty members there and at selected universities in India, China and elsewhere. The quality of undergraduate education varies widely in those countries, DePauw said, but through these relationships, Virginia Tech faculty members know enough about the institutions applicants have attended to judge their ability to succeed.

"We know a lot more about the quality of preparation now," DePauw said. "We know these institutions."

China and India offer a contrast in the breadth of universities to which students are applying and being admitted. For the first time, the council looked at trends at institutions by enrollment of international students. The greatest increases in applications and admissions from Chinese students took place at institutions that were not among those already enrolling the most foreign students. For Indian students, applications were up the most at the institutions already attracting the most foreign students, although admissions increases were marginal.

Changes in Applications and Admissions Offers by Country of Origin, 2006-2007

  China India
Largest 10 institutions    
--Applications +11% +20%
--Admissions +8% +2%
Largest 25 institutions    
--Applications +14% +17%
--Admissions +10% +16%
Largest 50 institutions    
--Applications +17% +17%
--Admissions +15% +14%
All other institutions    
--Applications +23% +38%
--Admissions +5% +21%

Another new feature of this year's study was to ask how many institutions have collaborative programs with foreign institutions. Graduate schools were asked about dual degree programs (in which students enroll at and receive degrees from institutions in two countries) and joint degrees (in which multiple institutions offer a program and award a degree). Of respondents to the survey, 11 percent reported having only dual degrees with foreign partners, 7 percent reported only having joint degrees, 3 percent had both kinds of degree programs, and another 7 percent said that they had other collaborative relationships.

Europe was the region involved in the largest share of collaborative programs and business is the top field, followed by engineering.

Redd said that the council asked these questions to get a baseline for future study, and to encourage the development of common definitions for such programs, which appear to be on the rise. About 24 percent of graduate schools reported that they plan to establish new collaborative degree relationships with foreign partners in the next two years.


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