More Students from Other Nations Earning Doctorates in U.S.

By Jeffrey Thomas
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - International students represent an important means for strengthening U.S. cultural diplomacy around the world, according to new reports that show that the United States continues to welcome more international students than any other country and that a growing percentage of the doctorates U.S. universities award are earned by students who are not residents of the United States.

In the 20th century, the United States became an educator of the world, according to a new report by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Although international students earned less than 10 percent of all doctorates awarded in the United States in 1960, by 1999, they were earning more than one-third of all doctorates in the fields of science and engineering and 17 percent of doctorates in other fields, according to the October 10 report, U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century.

The largest groups of international students earning doctorates have come from China, India, Taiwan and South Korea. Students from the People's Republic of China, the largest international group, received more than 24,000 of the doctorates awarded by U.S. universities in the 1990s.

Recent trends in international student enrollment in the United States reported by the American Council on Education (ACE) in Students on the Move: the Future of International Students in the United States show that by 2003 international students earned 55.3 percent of doctoral degrees in engineering, 44.3 percent in mathematics, and 43.8 percent in computer sciences.

Between the 1999–2000 and 2004–2005 school years, international student enrollment grew nearly 17 percent in the United States, according to Students on the Move.


In the 20th century, a total of 426 U.S. institutions awarded more than 1.36 million doctorates, more than three-fourths of them between 1970 and 1999, according to the NSF report.

The report describes the development of the unique U.S. graduate education in which fundamental research is conducted at universities, typically with the assistance of graduate students. According to the internationally influential U.S. model, doctoral education is “organized around an intensive, real-world research experience that prepares students to be scholars capable of discovering, integrating, and applying knowledge,” the report says.

The report also discusses other important changes in graduate education. Women made up 47 percent of all U.S.-citizen Ph.D.s from 1995 to 1999 - a more than fourfold increase from 1960 to 1964, when they earned just 11 percent of U.S. doctorates.

Minorities now earn about 14 percent of U.S. doctorates in both the sciences and engineering and in other fields as well.


International student enrollment declined slightly in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, after more than 30 years of continuous growth. The ACE report attributes this decline to a variety of factors including “perceptions that it is difficult to secure visas and that the United States is unwelcoming to international students; competition from other countries; the high cost of U.S. higher education; increasing higher education capacity in countries that traditionally send a large number of students to study overseas, such as China and India; and increased anti-American sentiment around the world.”

But the report says that visa processing time and visa acceptance rates have “significantly improved,” and the latest data on enrollments “show a rebound.” (See related article.)

Students on the Move: the Future of International Students in the United States is available on the Web site of the American Council on Education. U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century is available on the Web site of the National Science Foundation.

Additional information on international travel and visa requirements is available on the Department of State’s travel Web site.

For more information, see Study in the U.S.