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International Graduate Student Enrollment Increases After Three Years

A new report from the Council of Graduate Schools released today (Wednesday) shows that the total enrollment of international graduate students in U.S. colleges increased by 1 percent from 2005 to 2006, after three consecutive years of declines.

Over 175 schools responded to the “2006 CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey, Phase III: Admissions and Enrollment,” which is the final phase of a three-part annual survey of international graduate student applications, admissions and enrollment among CGS’ U.S. member institutions.

Although the 1 percent increase may seem small, it is significant compared to the 3 percent decline in enrollment last year, says to the survey. It also shows that first-time enrollment of international graduate students increased by 12 percent, with significant jumps in the enrollment of students from India (32 percent) and China (20 percent). The two countries annually send the most students to study in the United States.

Dr. Debra W. Stewart, president of CGS, says the turnaround can be attributed to a reduction in the delays that plagued the visa approval process after Sept. 11. Although efficiency has improved, certain features in the process are not always encouraging to international students. However, Stewart says 79 percent of graduate schools have begun undertaking outreach measures, allocating new resources for international programs to lure international students.

“I am optimistic that this encouraging trend will continue,” she says. “The increases reflect positively on both U.S. government policy changes and the outreach efforts of graduate schools themselves. Maintaining our leadership in research and innovation rests in part on welcoming the most highly qualified international students to U.S. graduate programs.”

However, the numbers vary by country and field of study.

Total enrollment of students from India rose by 8 percent, but total Chinese enrollment fell 2 percent. First-time enrollment from Middle Eastern students declined 1 percent although total enrollment for that region increased by the same amount.

Engineering showed the highest increase in both first-time enrollment (22 percent) and total enrollment (3 percent), followed by business (first-time up 10 percent, total up 1 percent). The largest declines were in education (9 percent) and humanities and arts (7 percent).

The survey determined that graduate school policies regarding acceptance of European three-year undergraduate degrees, also known as the “Bologna Process,” have become less of an issue. Only 18 percent of schools do not accept students with three-year degrees, down from 29 percent last year.

“The findings signals a turnaround in [international] student enrollment and could be the beginning of better things to come,” says Kenneth E. Redd, CGS’ director of research and policy analysis and the report’s author.

However, the report also warns that other countries, such as France, New Zealand and South Africa, have also made improvements in international student enrollment.

“As these and other countries expand their higher education infrastructures, they could be in a better position to recruit high-quality students for master’s and doctoral education,” the report says. “The gains made by other countries must continue to be closely monitored.”

The full report is available at

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