Data Sources: Admission Yields of Prospective International Graduate Students: A First Look

    Hironao Okahana, Assistant Vice President, Research & Policy Analysis, Council of Graduate Schools

     

    With nearly one out of five U.S. master’s and doctoral students being international students, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), graduate deans, and the graduate education community have high stakes in supporting the recruitment and success of international graduate students and scholars pursuing their studies in the United States. Though it has been over five months since the first immigration executive order was signed, much uncertainty remains as to how the current political climate and immigration policies may be affecting that flow. A short survey conducted by CGS finds that member deans are seeing a decline in admission yields of prospective international graduate students, a sign that the global appeal for U.S. graduate education may be suffering.

     

    About the Survey

    To offer insight into this ongoing and developing event, CGS fielded a short survey to its member deans, asking them to report changes in admission yields for this year, compared to the last. The survey was sent to all 464 graduate deans or their equivalents at CGS member institutions based in the United States via email between May 22 and June 7, 2017. The response rate was 38%, with 176 institutions recording valid responses. Of the respondents, 38% were Doctoral Universities - Highest research activity (R1), 33% were Doctoral Universities - Higher or Moderate research activity (R2 & R3), and 29% were Master’s Colleges and Universities and other institution types. The survey asked deans to indicate any substantial changes in percentages of offers of admission accepted by prospective international graduate students, or admission yields, by degree level and region of origin. As a reference point, the survey also asked graduate deans to report any substantial changes they may be observing in admission yields of prospective graduate students who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

     

    Survey Results

    First, the data indicate that more graduate deans are seeing declines in admission yields of prospective international graduate students than of prospective U.S. citizen/permanent resident graduate students. Particularly for prospective master’s students, 46% of graduate deans indicated that they are seeing substantial downward changes in admission yields for international students, while only 24% reported the same for domestic students. At the same time, 41% of graduate deans reported that they are seeing substantial upward changes in admission yields for prospective domestic master’s students. Given that the large majority of international graduate students are offered admission into master’s degree programs, this may have substantial implications for first-time enrollment of international graduate students for Fall 2017.

     

    Second, declines in admission yields for prospective international graduate students were more pronounced at R2 and R3 institutions. Over one half of respondents at R2 and R3 institutions (55%) indicated that they are seeing substantial downward changes in admission yields of prospective international master’s students. This is compared to 42% at R1 institutions and 39% at Master’s Colleges and Universities and others. The contrast was even more dramatic for admission yields of prospective international doctoral students. Forty-two percent of graduate deans at R2 and R3 institutions indicated that they are seeing substantial downward changes, while only 27% of their counterparts at R1 institutions reported the same.

     

     

    Finally, declines in admission yields of prospective international graduates vary by regions of origin. Fifty-two percent of graduate deans reported that they are seeing declines in admission yields for prospective international graduate students from the Middle East and North Africa region. The observation of downward changes was particularly pronounced at R1 institutions, where 60% of graduate deans reported declines in admission yields for students from that region. Also, forty-two percent of graduate deans indicated that they are seeing a decline in students from Asia. Notably, 55% of graduate deans at R2 and R3 institutions reported substantial downward changes in admission yields of prospective Asian graduate students. For other regions, many fewer graduate deans reported a decline, and the majority of them noted no substantial changes in international admission yields.

     

    Discussion

    In the CGS Pressing Issues Survey earlier this year, nearly one half of graduate deans at U.S. doctoral universities (48%) indicated that they were seeing downward changes in international graduate applications this year, compared to the last application cycle. With the second immigration executive order now making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Administration’s continued scrutiny of the visa review processes at U.S. consulates abroad, as well as H-1B visa and optional practical training programs, much uncertainty still remains. Yet, a few key indicators have emerged to offer additional insight into how these policies may be affecting the flow of international graduate students and scholars to the United States.

     

    recent review by POLITICO noted that fewer non-immigrant visas, including F-1 visas that international graduate students need, were granted this year as compared to last year, particularly in Arab countries. However, the visa issuance statistics alone are difficult to interpret, since we do not know whether this is because of fewer applications submitted, fewer applications approved, or a combination of both. An examination of admission yields offers additional insight, as the decline suggests that fewer students are willing to pursue opportunities for graduate education in the United States, even when acceptance into a degree program is offered to them. Prospective international graduate students appear more likely, in particular, to turn down those opportunities at the master’s level, as well as at R2 and R3 institutions. While the survey cannot pinpoint particular factors that might be shaping such shifts, the uncertainty with prospects of post-graduate school employment under optional practical training and/or H-1B visa programs, as well as opportunities to pursue graduate education in other English-speaking countries, may in part explain some of the declines graduate deans are observing.

     

    CGS remains committed to seeing U.S. graduate education remain open and that U.S. graduate schools continue to be the desired destination for talented students and scholars both domestic and from abroad. More importantly, CGS is the platform for our member deans to exchange ideas and promising practices that may strengthen the global appeal of U.S. graduate education collectively. At the upcoming Summer Workshop in Denver, CGS is pleased to welcome Esther Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators to hear her perspective on this subject. Also at the Annual Meeting later this year, we will convene a pre-meeting workshop to discuss strategies and approaches for recruiting international graduate students. In the meantime, we encourage our members to take advantage of the Dean’s Discussion Board to pose questions and/or share insights with fellow graduate deans.

     

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