Indian and South Korean Enrollment Sinks at U.S. Grad Schools

Posted by: Alison Damast on November 10, 2009

This summer, U.S. graduate schools’ admissions offers to prospective international students plummeted, leaving many educators worried that international enrollment would be less than robust on campus this fall. Their fears were confirmed today with the news that there was no growth in first-time enrollment of foreign students entering American graduate schools from 2008 to 2009, according to a report released today by the Council of Graduate Schools.

It is the first time that figure has been flat since the organization first started doing the survey in 2004, says Nathan Bell, the author of the report and the council’s director of research and policy analysis. The zero percent change from 2008 to 2009 follows four consecutive years of growth. There were 257 graduate institutions that responded to the survey.

“Growth was slowing in the last few years with international students, but it was still growth,” Bell says. “This marks a big change. It is a shift and it is something that we need to watch.”

The report comes at a time when some international students are questioning whether it is still a worthwhile investment to come study in the U.S., as opposed to their home country. The dismal global economy, challenges securing H-1B visas in the U.S. and difficulty obtaining student loans seems to have had a sobering effect on many applicants, Bell says.

Indian students, in particular, seem to be the most disenchanted with U.S. graduate schools; enrollment from first-time students from India was down 16%, the largest decline ever reported by CGS. On the flip side, first-time enrollment from China was up 16%. Both India and China are the two countries that send the most graduate school students to the U.S., so the net effect ended up being “a washout,” says Bell.

Trailing not far behind India was South Korea, where enrollment sank 13%. The largest spike in enrollment in the report came from the Middle East, where there was 22% growth, according to the report.

Back in August, a CGS report showed the U.S. graduate schools’ admissions offers to prospective international students from Indian and South Korea fell in 2009, with declines of 12% and 9% respectively. Of the Indian and South Korean students who received admissions offers, fewer than expected decided to matriculate this fall.

“It was a little surprising how steep those declines were,” Bell says. “To be honest, I didn’t think they be quite as bad as they were.”

The ripple effect of the stagnant enrollment figures is already being felt in some of the large academic departments that typically draw the most international students. There was either a decline or no growth at all in five of eight broad fields of study, the report says. First-time enrollment fell by 4% in physical and earth sciences, while remaining flat in business and engineering, the three largest fields of study for students, according to the study.

In the coming year, it will be interesting to see if international enrollment figures continue to remain flat, or, in the worst case scenario, decline. Many graduate schools, including business schools, have put into place new programs this year that help students obtain a no cosigner loan, which may help ease some international students’ anxiety about financing their education.

Readers, do you think international students will continue to be wary of coming to study in the U.S. in the coming year? Do you expect the decline in enrollment from countries like India and South Korea to persist?

Reader Comments


November 12, 2009 3:05 AM

Decline from India will continue to be same as dim prospects for International MBA's in USA have made us to study and work in a country where the job market is +34 % the highest in the World according to Manpower Q4 2009. That's India.


November 13, 2009 11:22 PM

US schools give admits based on race not on talent. So, a white with <700 can easily get an admit to top schools but for an Indian you need to have 740+ to be strong applicant


November 18, 2009 6:38 PM

A, this is probably the funniest and most frustrated claim I ever heard. First of all, GMAT is just a part of the application for top business school and is usually far from being the more significant. For many of those top schools, you will see that 640 (70% percentile on Q and V) is a really reasonable score to make the assumption that a student will succeed in his first year. Second, top US Business School are looking for people having an habit of leadership and not for test wizards. Sometimes it does happen that people who have the greatest intellectual vitality and then a stronger GMAT are also the ones who have the greatest leadership potential and sometimes not. So 790 at the GMAT after 9 months training and no extracurricular activity at all except GMATprep is not exactly what they consider like "talent".


November 18, 2009 6:55 PM

Quality in US schools is another issue. Besides, after all that hard work and expense, job prospect is dismal.


November 19, 2009 9:58 AM

Scoring well on a GMAT is not the only talent.


December 1, 2009 3:27 PM

why would you want to come to the usa, when universities are tying up with local colleges in india to provide the same curriculum? Best of both worlds for them.


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