International Enrollment in U.S. Graduate Schools Rising

By Jeffrey Thomas
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - International graduate enrollment at U.S. universities has increased for the first time in four years and that increase is driven by a 12 percent increase in first-time enrollment, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) reports in a new study.

The CGS study, which is based on fall 2006 enrollment figures, confirms the findings of recent reports by the National Science Foundation and the American Council on Education, which showed that over the past century the United States increasingly has become an educator to the world. (See related article.)

Enrollment figures for international graduate students declined in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States but now are rebounding, according to CGS President Debra Stewart, who credits the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security and U.S. graduate schools for the turnaround.

“The increases reflect positively on both U.S. government policy changes and the outreach efforts of graduate schools themselves,” Stewart told the Washington File November 1, the day of the study’s release.

“These findings confirm that there has been a recovery in international graduate students flows to the United States, and I am optimistic that this encouraging trend will continue,” Stewart said.

What matters even more than the numbers of students admitted to U.S. graduate schools is the quality of those international students, Stewart noted. But here, too, the facts are encouraging: 99 percent of the graduate schools responding to a CGS survey in August said that the quality of international graduate students being admitted for study is as good or better than in the past.

In terms of total enrollment, the CGS survey shows a 1 percent increase in fall 2006 as compared to fall 2005 enrollment numbers. This contrasts with a 3 percent decrease between fall 2005 and fall 2004. The 12 percent increase in first-time enrollment for fall 2006 compares with a 1 percent increase in 2005 above 2004 levels. Because graduate degrees can take a long time to complete, it takes several years for increases in first-time enrollment to be fully reflected in total enrollment.

The biggest increases in first-time enrollment are among students from India (32 percent) and China (20 percent). First-time enrollments of students from the Middle East rose 1 percent.

The fields of engineering (22 percent) and business (10 percent) showed the biggest increases.

The CGS data are based on the responses of 175 graduate schools, including 80 percent of the 25 institutions with the largest student enrollments, according to CGS.


Perceptions in some parts of the world that it became more difficult to get a student visa after September 11, 2001, are “outdated,” according to Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, who addressed the issue earlier in 2006 at the U.S. University Presidents Summit on International Education. (See related article.)

At the same conference, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that almost all visa applications - some 97 percent - are processed within two days.

“Outdated perceptions regarding changes to visa processing could not be more different from today’s reality,” Rice said.  “Even for the small fraction of applicants who require additional processing for security reasons, we have reduced the processing time from weeks, months, sometimes never - to less than 14 days.”

The State Department has taken a number of steps to expedite the processing of student visa applications, including adding new consular positions, negotiating extended reciprocity agreements so that students are not required to apply for visas as frequently, and directing U.S. embassies and consulates to put student and exchange visitors at the head of the queue when scheduling visa interviews.

Stewart said these changes have helped reduce the waiting time for students.

According to Open Doors 2005, a study by the Institute of International Education, approximately 565,039 students came from around the world to study at schools of higher education in the United States in 2005. The leading country of origin was India, which sent 80,466 students, followed by China and the Republic of Korea, which sent 62,523 and 53,358 students, respectively.

For information on studying in the United States, see the State Department’s EducationUSA Web site.

Information on visa procedures and traveling to the United States is available at and in the electronic journal See You in the U.S.A.