BOX 1-2Post 9-11 Graduate-Student Applications, Admissions, and Enrollments

Since 9-11, the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) have attempted to quantify the effects of visa and immigration changes on the flow of international graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Both surveys have limitations but they provide potentially useful insights into recent trends.

IIE, supported by the US Department of State, has been collecting information on international student flows, including enrollments in US graduate schools, since 1950. Its Open Doors reporta provides data on international students in all fields and visiting scholars who are teaching or conducting research on US campuses; it also provides data on US students abroad. IIE reports place of origin, funding sources, and fields of study of graduate students. Its fall 2003 and 2004 enrollment surveys did not break down graduate enrollment by field and included master's and doctoral students in business, engineering, science, and other fields. Retrospective numbers indicate that S&E fields represent about 40 percent of total international enrollments, but it is not possible to gather field-specific information specifically for graduate students from these snapshot surveys.

CGS has been collecting graduate application, admission, and enrollment data since 1986.b CGS surveys virtually all PhD-granting institutions in the United States and collects enrollment data by institutional type, ethnicity, sex, and citizenship. CGS gathers information on S&E fields, business, education, humanities and arts, and public administration and services, and it groups together as “other” such fields as architecture, communications, home economics, library sciences, and religion. It performed snapshot applications, admissions, and enrollment surveys in 2003 and 2004, but the most recent complete data publicly available are from 2002.

On the basis of these snapshot surveys, CGS reported substantial decreases in international graduate-student applications and admissions between 2003 and 2004 (see Table 1-2 below).c International student applications and admissions to S&E graduate programs were among the hardest-hit. Most graduate students apply to more than program, so the application rate does not correspond with numbers of students. A drop in application rate may reflect the same total number of students applying to fewer schools and does not imply a drop in quality. This interpretation is supported by CGS data, which showed the later decrease in enrollments to be much smaller.d Total domestic-student applications and admissions did not change between 2003 and 2004, whereas enrollments decreased by 5 percent. Data from IIE indicate a smaller increase in first-time international-student enrollments than would be expected on the basis of previous trends.e

Data from the CGS 2005 survey of graduate-school applications indicate a 5 percent overall decrease in international-student applications between 2004 and 2005. Engineering programs saw a 7 percent decrease, life sciences programs a 1 percent decrease, and physical sciences a 3 percent decrease.f The American Institute of Physics (AIP), concerned about anecdotal evidence that international graduate enrollments were declining after 2001, performed a survey of PhD-granting physics departments in 2003 to complement its annual survey of departments.g AIP found that the proportion of international physics graduate students, after rising steadily for several decades to a peak of 55 percent in 2000, declined by 10 percent between 2000 and 2002.

What seems to be driving the decline in enrollments is a mix of reduced applications and reported difficulties in obtaining nonimmigrant visas. For the CGS surveys, the three primary reported causes of the declines in international graduate applications, admissions, and enrollments were increased global competition for students, changed visa policies, and less-favorable perceptions of the United States abroad. In the AIP survey, during the year preceding June 2003, two-thirds of the PhD-granting physics departments and almost half the master's-granting departments reported that they had accepted foreign students who were unable to enroll because of visa difficulties.

TABLE 1-2. Change in Applications, Admissions, and Enrollments for International Graduate Students 2003-2004.


Change in Applications, Admissions, and Enrollments for International Graduate Students 2003-2004.


The IIE Open Doors report is available at .


The CGS graduate enrollment surveys from 1996-2002 are available at .


Heath Brown. 2004. Council of Graduate Schools' Report Finds US Graduate Schools Adjusting Policies and Procedures to Address Declines in International Graduate Applications and Admits. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools (September 7).


Heath Brown. 2004. Council of Graduate Schools Finds Decline in New International Graduate Student Enrollment for the Third Consecutive Year. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools (November 4).


IIE. 2004. “Survey of foreign student and scholar enrollment and visa trends for Fall 2004.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, New York: Institute for International Education (November).


Heath Brown and Maria Doulis. 2005. Findings from the 2005 CGS International Graduate Survey I. Washington DC: Council of Graduate Schools.


Michael Neuschatz and Patrick J. Mulvey. 2003. Physics Students from Abroad in the Post-9-11 Era (Pub. R-43). College Park, MD: American Institute of Physics. Available at . Note that the small rise in physics enrollment noted by the CGS survey took place the year after the APS survey was fielded.

From: 1, International Science and Engineering Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States

Cover of Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States
Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States.
National Research Council (US) Committee on Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2005.
Copyright © 2005, National Academy of Sciences.

NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.