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Fewer international science, engineering grad students in U.S.

U. sees increase in inter-national grad students in science, engineering despite national decrease

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2018

International enrollment in science and engineering graduate programs in the United States saw a 6 percent decrease from fall 2016 to fall 2017, said Diane Souvaine, National Science Board vice chair and professor of computer science at Tufts University. However, the University saw nearly a 10 percent increase in enrollment of international graduate students in science and engineering programs, said Ethan Bernstein, director of admissions and operations.

International graduate applications for all fields also saw a national decline, with 3 percent fewer applications submitted between fall 2016 and fall 2017, according to a Council of Graduate Schools report.

But the University saw a roughly 15 percent increase in applications from international graduate students in science and engineering programs, Bernstein said. With a total of 3,727 applications and 229 enrolled students for 2017, the University has seen increased applications and enrollment nearly every year since 2008.

Most academic departments contacted by The Herald declined to provide specific enrollment statistics, citing confidentiality.

Within the computer science department, the enrollment of international students in the doctoral program increased, said Ugur Cetintemel, professor of computer science and department chair.

Nationally, computer science programs had the largest decrease in international enrollment with a 13 percent decline, Souvaine said, though the decline “follows several years of continued growth.”

Cetintemel cited multiple reasons for the national decline. More international students are staying in their home countries since these countries are “making big investments in the tech space,” he said. Students can also apply to other places such as Canada, Australia or parts of Europe that are more “friendly to international students,” Cetintemel added, contrasting such countries with the United States and its current political climate and immigration policies.

However, “the top-tier programs — as far as I’ve seen — in computer science haven’t been affected,” Cetintemel said, adding that enrollment and applications at these institutions “stayed either flat or they even improved, … so they didn’t see (a decline) so far.”

Students applying to top-tier programs, such as the University’s, may be more willing to take the risk of going through immigration, Cetintemel said. “You’re more willing to actually come to a place like Brown,” he added.

Despite the overall increase in applications for science and engineering, engineering itself saw an 18 percent decline in master’s of science applications and a 1.9 percent increase in doctoral applications between fall 2016 and fall 2017, said Jennifer Casasanto, associate dean for programs and planning in the School of Engineering. Engineering also made fewer admission offers, so enrollment “should have gone down, (but) they actually stayed exactly the same,” Casasanto said.

Casasanto attributed the enrollment numbers to faculty outreach. Faculty members were making “phone calls, Skype calls, having students come here and visit,” Casasanto said. As a result, “the yield actually went up,” she added.

It is unclear why enrollment and applications from international students declined nationally, said Hironao Okahana, director of statistical analysis and policy research for the CGS. “Workforce needs in their home country, availability of postsecondary and graduate education opportunities in their home country” and “rhetoric around U.S. immigration policy” might have “cooled down interest,” Okahana said.

The national trend is not surprising, Souvaine said. The “share of international students in the (United States) has been on the decline since the turn of the century.”

It is “too early to say” what the implications of this international enrollment decline is, Souvaine said. “It’s an issue we all need to pay attention (to) … within the context of the health of our science and engineering enterprise.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Diane Souvaine is the National Science Board chair. In fact, Souvaine is the National Science Board vice chair. The Herald regrets the error.

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