Foreign Students and Graduate STEM Enrollment

October 11, 2017

International students make up the large majority of full-time students in many graduate science- and engineering-related programs, and their numbers have been rising much faster than the number of domestic students, according to a new report from the National Foundation for American Policy, a research organization focused on immigration and the economy.

The report found 81 percent of full-time graduate students in electrical and petroleum engineering programs at U.S. universities are international students, and 79 percent in computer science are. The report, which updates a previous version published in 2013, argues that at many U.S. universities “both majors and graduate programs could not be maintained without international students.” It further argues that “the increase in both the size and number of graduate programs in science and engineering at U.S. universities indicates U.S. student enrollment has not been held down by the lack of available slots at U.S. graduate schools.”

Field of Study Percent International Number of Full-Time International Graduate Students in 2015 Number of Full-Time U.S. Graduate Students in 2015
Electrical Engineering 81% 32,736 7,783
Petroleum Engineering 81% 1,258 302
Computer Science 79% 45,790 12,539
Industrial Engineering 75% 7,676 2,539
Statistics 69% 4,321 1,966
Economics 63% 7,770 4,492
Mechanical Engineering 62% 12,676 7,644
Civil Engineering 59% 9,159 6,284
Chemical Engineering 57% 5,001 3,834
Pharmaceutical Sciences 56% 1,931 1,502
Metallurgical/Materials Engineering 55% 3,723 3,103
Agricultural Engineering 53% 726 654
Agricultural Economics 53% 881 796

The report found that between 1995 and 2015, the number of full-time domestic students enrolled in graduate computer science programs increased by 45 percent, from 8,627 to 12,539 students, while the number of full-time international graduate students increased by about 480 percent, from 7,883 in 1995 to 45,790 in 2015.

Over that same time frame in electrical engineering, the number of full-time domestic graduate students decreased by 17 percent, from 9,399 students in 1995 to 7,783 in 2015, while the number of full-time international graduate students increased by 270 percent, from 8,855 to 32,736.

The report, which includes enrollment breakdowns for selected individual universities, is based on data from the National Science Foundation's Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates and NFAP's own calculations.

NFAP also issued a second report Tuesday making a case for the value of the STEM optional practical training program, which gives international students in STEM programs the opportunity to stay in the U.S. and work for up to three years after graduating. Many believe the program is vulnerable to being ended or changed by the Trump administration.

Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


+ -

Expand commentsHide comments  —   Join the conversation!

Opinions on Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U

What Others Are Reading

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year
Back to Top