The Council of Graduate Schools released its fall 2019 enrollment survey
, and for the first time since 2016, it actually showed growth, with the number of first-time graduate students from abroad ticking up by 4 percent. A big reason for that was continued increases from China, which accounts for nearly four in 10 international graduate students in the United States. Sub-Saharan Africa registered particularly big percentage gains, of 22 percent.
Still, American universities have fewer international master’s students than in 2017 because of the cumulative effect of the past years’ declines.
Let’s dig into the numbers!
The data for Iranian students seem to substantiate the reported problems they have had obtaining visas or being admitted to the country by U.S. customs officials.
Applications from Iranian students actually increased modestly, by 2 percent, but enrollments fell by 7 percent. Students from Iran were supposed to get a carve-out in the travel ban, but their continued struggles could spell tough times ahead for graduate programs. Though Iran is the 13th-largest source of international students, only three other foreign countries account for more doctoral students.
Speaking of visas, in a flash survey conducted a month ago, 123 of 174 universities reported an uptick in delays in students’ visa processing and 84 reported delays or denials at ports of entry. Students from China, Iran, Libya, and Saudi Arabia came in for special scrutiny, respondents said. Meanwhile, the recent expansion
of the travel ban targets some of the very countries, such as Nigeria, that have recently experienced robust growth. Students are exempted from the latest travel prohibitions, but perceptions that the U.S. is unwelcoming could continue to dog graduate programs.
New enrollments from India, second only to China as the top source of students, were essentially flat for the second year in a row. That’s a break from the volatility of the past decade. During that time, Indian numbers have soared by as much as 40 percent and dipped by 13 percent. Those swings have been felt acutely by master’s and certificate programs, which enroll 86 percent of Indian graduate students.
One final takeaway: A benefit of the CGS data is its close-to-real-time nature – universities were surveyed between late September and Thanksgiving. Still, think of all the changes that have happened in just these last few months: the new travel ban, a fresh round of visa revocations, the coronavirus outbreak. Surveys like CGS provide a clear picture of what’s been happening, but the future for international recruitment appears increasingly unsettled.
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