Foreign-student enrollment declines

Engineering is among graduate fields with decline in new enrollment, a trend raising questions about U.S. tech leadership.

New foreign-student enrollment in U.S. graduate student programs dropped this fall, according to two recent reports.

The decline is sure to fuel heated debates about the role of international students in U.S. graduate programs, whether a technology talent shortage looms and how to preserve the country's long-term technological leadership. Foreign students make up a large chunk of the students in U.S. graduate programs in technology-related fields.

In a report released Wednesday, a coalition of education groups said more than half of the U.S. doctoral and research institutions that responded to a survey reported a decline in new international graduate enrollments this fall.

The study follows a report last week from the Council of Graduate Schools, which found a 6 percent decline in first-time international graduate student enrollment from 2003 to 2004. First-time enrollment from China decreased 8 percent and from India 4 percent. Following a decade of steady growth, the number of first-time international graduate students studying in the United States decreased between 6 percent and 10 percent for three consecutive years, the council said.

The fields of life sciences, business and engineering saw the steepest declines in foreign-student enrollment, while physical sciences was the only field that showed an increase in first-time enrollment, according to the council.

"The three primary factors leading to declines in international graduate applications, admits and enrollment are increased global competition, changing visa policies and diminished perceptions of the U.S. abroad," Council of Graduate Schools President Debra Stewart said in a statement. "While these numbers are distressing, the declines are not nearly as great as some had feared."

The coalition of groups behind Wednesday's report is composed of the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), the Association of American Universities, the Council of Graduate Schools, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and the Institute of International Education.

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