International Grad Enrollments Up

3% increase in number of first year students is the result of continued surge in interest from China.
November 9, 2010

The number of first-time international graduate students at universities in the United States is up 3 percent in 2010 over last year, which had no growth from the year before, according to data being released today by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The first-year enrollment figure is a key predictor of long-term trends in international graduate enrollments because most graduate students are enrolled in programs that last longer than a year. Officials of the graduate school group were encouraged by the increase in first-year enrollments, but at the same time, uneven patterns among who is coming are raising concerns.

Continuing a trend of recent years, the numbers from China are up 20 percent, but the numbers from India and South Korea (which, with China, are by far the top exporters of students to the United States) are down. Those decreases are small this year, after large drops last year that alarmed many involved in graduate education.

Here are the trends for the last three years:

Changes in First-Year Enrollment of International Graduate Students From Selected Countries and Regions

Country/region 2006 to 2007 2007 to 2008 2008 to 2009 2009 to 2010
China +19% +14% +16% +20%
India +8% -2% -16% -3%
South Korea +3% -4% -13% -3%
Middle East and Turkey +12% +8% +22% +7%
From all countries +4% +3% no change +3%

Nathan Bell, director of research and policy analysis for the Council of Graduate Schools, said "my concern is that we could get to a place where we are over-reliant on one country," China. Bell said that the large increases from China, year after year, are a natural result of the country having made an "enormous" push in undergraduate education without having the capacity to meet the ensuing demand for graduate degrees.

China "could ramp up capacity," Bell said, in which case American universities might lose students.

At the same time, Bell added that American graduate schools should be pleased that the declines from India and South Korea are small, compared to the large declines the year before. "The free-fall last year has slowed down," he said.

By field of study, the largest gains in first-year enrollments of foreign students are in physical and earth sciences, up 9 percent, followed by arts and humanities, up 5 percent. The only disciplinary group showing a decline is education, down 7 percent.

Data on enrollments of foreign students at all levels will be released next week by the Institute of International Education in its annual "Open Doors" report.


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