Universities enroll fewer foreign students

The number of foreign students enrolled in American universities declined for the second consecutive year in 2004-05, according to a report published Monday by the Institute of International Education.

Total foreign student enrollment fell by 1.3 percent nationwide last year, while the number of foreign students at Yale decreased by 0.4 percent. Education experts attributed the national decline to the consistently increased difficulty of obtaining student visas since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and to competition from foreign universities. But Yale Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said he is not worried about the decrease at Yale.

“A 0.4 percent variation in one year has no statistical significance,” Butler said.

The number of international students enrolled in graduate schools in the United Sates dropped by 3.6 percent nationwide, according to the IIE’s annual “Open Doors” report, and by 0.1 percent at Yale. The number of international undergraduates declined by 2.9 percent nationwide and by 0.2 percent at Yale. Enrollment of foreign students studying at American universities but not working towards a degree rose by 22.8 percent nationwide and dropped by 11 percent at Yale.

Stuart Heiser, public affairs manager at the Council of Graduate Schools, said recently enacted homeland security initiatives contributed to the nationwide decline.

“The level of foreign student enrollment had been increasing for decades and declined for the first time after visa policies were tightened in the wake of 9/11,” Heiser said.

Butler said fewer foreign students are applying to Yale because of difficulty obtaining visas, but this has not affected enrollment.

“Enrollment figures generally are still holding pretty steady,” Butler said.

Ankita Ritwik ’07, who is from Kuwait, said some students in her hometown had difficulty obtaining student visas.

“I know students who were randomly denied visas even though they had similar profiles to people who were granted visas,” Ritwik said. “One of my friends went to the U.K. for college instead of the U.S. because he didn’t want to deal with the problems of getting a visa.”

Daniel Obst, program manager for the Higher Education Resource Group at the IIE, said he thinks the decrease is partly due to economic development abroad and improvements in foreign universities.

“The cause for decline most often cited is the vigorous recruitment by institutions in other countries,” Obst said. “There are now more opportunities to get a fantastic education in China or India.”

There are currently 1,787 foreign students at Yale, accounting for 16 percent of all students at the University.

Yale has seen lower declines than schools nationwide because of its strong reputation abroad, Obst said.

“There is traditionally less flux in well-known, world-class institutions than other institutions,” he said. “There are a few institutions known around the world which are less susceptible to decline than other institutions.”

Alexandra Cavoulacos ’08, who was raised in Paris, said American universities must work to keep foreign students.

“It’s more interesting to take a class on a different part of the world if there are people from that part of the world in the class,” Cavoulacos said.

Foreign student enrollment nationwide fell by 2.4 percent during the 2003-04 academic year, but the number of international students at Yale increased by 0.2 percent that year. National figures had been increasing since the IIE first conducted the survey in 1954 and started decreasing in 2003-04, according to the report.

But Obst said he anticipates a smaller decline or possibly an increase in foreign student enrollments next year.

“Things are slowly but gradually leveling out,” Obst said. “We took an online survey of about 1,000 universities’ enrollments for fall 2005 which showed encouraging signs. The majority of institutions are showing increases in foreign student enrollment.”

Obst and Heiser said they expect a turnaround because of measures that have made it easier to obtain student visas and improvements made by American universities to the application process.

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