Study: International Students Avoiding U.S. Graduate Schools

Study: International Students Avoiding U.S. Graduate Schools

International students vote with their feet. For the first time in more than a decade, university admissions officials reported a decrease in the number of applications to graduate school programs from international students, according to a recent Council of Graduate Schools study. Researchers found that international graduate applications declined by 3 percent and first-time enrollments declined by 1 percent from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017.

The study singled out new immigration policies, such as Trump’s eight-country travel ban, as a major factor discouraging international students from studying in the United States. “The graduate education community remains concerned that the ban—in its substance and rhetoric—might have hampered the global competitiveness of the United States and its ability to attract the best and brightest prospective international graduate students,” researchers found.

The sharpest decreases occurred among Middle Eastern and North African students: In the fall of 2017, applications from those countries declined 17 percent. University officials also saw an 18 percent decrease in applications from Iranian students (first-time enrollment decreased by 16 percent). Applications from Saudi Arabian students also decreased by 21 percent, but Saudi students accepted offers to study in the United States at a significantly higher rate than Iranian students (40 percent compared with 17 percent), suggesting that Trump’s travel ban and his harsh rhetoric toward Iran may have alienated Iranian students. Applications from Canadian, Chinese, Indian, and Mexican students applying to American graduate programs also declined.

The only increase in applications came from European students (up by 18 percent) and students from sub-Saharan African countries (up by 12 percent).

Although overall applications declined in fall 2017, international acceptances rose slightly compared with the previous academic year, from 16 percent to 17 percent. The study credits efforts made by individual institutions “to ensure that [students] feel welcome” despite the uncertainty surrounding U.S. immigration policy.

There are currently more than one million international students (about 25 percent of all graduate students) enrolled in American colleges; ten years ago, there were fewer than 650,000.