Amid a more stringent visa process enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the number of foreign students’ applications to American graduate schools dropped by 28 percent in the last year while the number of international students admitted to American graduate schools declined by 18 percent, according to a report released last week by the Council of Graduate Schools.
The sharp downward national trend mirrors admissions statistics at the Yale Graduate School, which last year saw its international applications drop by 19 percent. The report cites a number of factors that are thought to have led to the decline, chief among them the tightened U.S. visa process.
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said Yale is working to reverse this trend, noting that Yale President Richard Levin has worked closely with the State Department to smooth the visa application process.
“As President Levin has noted, we appear to have made some improvements in the practice and procedures in granting visas,” Butler said.
In recent years, buoyed by a weak national job market, the Graduate School has seen an increase in applications from American students. This year, domestic applications were up by 9 percent. But applications from foreign countries — especially China, Germany, Korea and Japan — have slipped.
This has left the Graduate School with a 8.5 percent decrease in total applications, dropping to 8,300 last year from a historic high of 9,067 in 2003. International applicants made up about 45 percent of the school’s applicant pool last year.
Graduate School Director of Admissions Robert Colonna said the school has enhanced its recruiting process by streamlining the application process on the Internet. He said this makes it easier for international students to communicate with the Admissions Office.
“That may be more reassuring to the international community, where communications are difficult,” Colonna said.
The report, which surveyed 126 of the nation’s graduate schools, found that applications were down nationally for students from China, India and Korea by 45 percent, 28 percent and 14 percent respectively. The figures at Yale mostly mirror this national trend.
In recent years, China has supplied by far the largest number of international applicants to the Graduate School. But applications from China slipped by 30 percent between 2003 and 2004. Applications from Germany, Korea and Japan also dropped significantly last year, by 26 percent, 12 percent and 10 percent respectively. Bucking the trend, applications from students in India and Turkey increased by 16 percent and 26 percent respectively.
The report said the decline nationally can be attributed to three factors: increased competition from graduate institutions abroad, more stringent visa processes, and an increasing apprehension among foreign students about attending American universities.
According to the report, “The larger issue going forward is: will the decline continue and will it ultimately erode our capacity to attract the best students wherever they reside? There is no reason to believe that these three factors will diminish in the short run. In fact, global competition will surely accelerate in the future.”
Butler said it “remains to be seen” whether the school’s recruiting efforts will be able to reverse the downward admissions trend.
“We will find out next year whether these improvements will stanch the decline,” Butler said. “The overall point is that we would have and will have a crisis if visa problems return or we have a hard time overcoming the problems that have occurred over the last few years because it will compromise the United States’ abilities to serve as the principal educational leader.”