Study: International graduate student demographics changing

Despite slight decline in Chinese enrollment, U.S. remains popular destination

The number of international first-time graduate students enrolling in U.S. schools increased for the fifth year in a row, even as the influx from China slowed, according to a new report from Council of Graduate Schools.

International enrollment up overall

First-time enrollment of international graduate students rose 8% over the past year, the same rate as overall graduate enrollment. Of all students in U.S. graduate schools, 17% come from other countries, up 2.5 percentage points since 2012.

The data indicates that "U.S. graduate programs continue to be a destination of choice... despite increasing global competition to attract top talent," says the report, and much of the growth is due to strategic international recruiting. 

Expanding international enrollment

"Institutions have been developing new ways of communicating with prospective students and offering students who matriculate stronger support services after they arrive," says council president Suzanne Ortega. "Universities understand that they can't afford to lose the contributions of these talented students to research and innovation on their campuses," she adds.

Demographic shifts

This upward trend held steady despite the first-ever drop of first-time Chinese graduate student enrollment since data collection began 10 years ago. This group only dipped 1%—but as Chinese students make up 33% of all international graduate students in the U.S., the change was significant, says the report.

Taiwanese and South Korean populations fell as well, by 8% and 7% respectively.

As students from east Asia declined, students from other areas increased. In the second consecutive year of double-digit growth, the number of first-time students from India jumped 27%. Furthermore, though Brazil currently sends relatively few students in real numbers, signs indicate growing demand for U.S. graduate education among Brazilian students. First-time enrollments from Brazil jumped 91% this year, compared with 17% and 14% increases in 2013 and 2012 respectively.

Fields of study shift as well

The study also found some changes in the preferred fields of study for international students. Traditionally popular, engineering and physical and earth sciences saw the strongest first-time enrollment growth with 11% and 20% respectively.

However, arts and humanities also showed upticks of 5% in 2011-2012, 9% in 2012-2013, and 3% in 2014.

Education, in contrast, dipped 1% (Kent, Council of Graduate Schools media release, 11/12; Strauss, Washington Post, 11/12).

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