Drop off in foreign grad student applications

A July 2013 report on foreign graduate students reported that International students account for 70% of the full-time graduate students in electrical engineering, 63% in computer science, 60% in industrial engineering, and more than 50% in economics, chemical engineering, materials engineering and mechanical engineering.

Science Magazine reported in February drop offs in grad school applications from abroad.

At Vanderbilt, the overall number of international students applying for engineering master’s programs is down 28% from 2016, and the number seeking engineering Ph.D.s dropped 11%. Dartmouth College saw a 30% plunge in international applications for its venerable master’s program in engineering management (MEM), a professional degree. “That’s never happened before” in the program’s 25-year history, says engineering dean Joseph Helble.

Such declines could have a major impact on a university’s bottom line, although calculating its magnitude is not straightforward. The federal government heavily subsidizes graduate education in the sciences and engineering, so most doctoral students don’t have to worry about tuition bills. But universities generate considerable revenue from professional master’s degree programs, a subset of all master’s training. And in those programs, international students at public universities pay tuition rates that are much higher than for in-state students.

The 200 or so colleges and universities that do the bulk of federally funded research compete for a talent pool that is increasingly international. At Cornell University, for example, the number of applications from international students increased in 2008 – 2013 by 30% annually for the past 5 years, whereas domestic applications dropped by 9% a year. International students in 2013 made up two-thirds of Cornell’s graduate applicants.

Though students on temporary visas make up only 19% of all U.S. graduate students, they compose 55% of those studying engineering and computer science, according to 2015 enrollment data from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) in Washington, D.C.

At Rice University, in 2010, 58 of the 100 full-time graduate students in electrical engineering were foreign nationals. At Purdue University, foreign nationals accounted for 70% (161 of 229) of full-time graduate students in computer science and 55% (59 of 108) in chemical engineering

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