American graduate schools are losing their sheen with Chinese students

Shout out.
Shout out.
Image: AP Photo / Michelle McLoughlin
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Bad news for US graduate schools: thousands of prospective Chinese students may be losing interest in their programs. According to a report (pdf) by the Council of Graduate Schools released April 8, applications from China—which sends the most international students to the US of any country—for the academic year beginning in the autumn of 2013 were down 5% from the year before, as fewer Chinese nationals applied for graduate degrees in business, engineering and sciences.

The fall is a sharp reversal from the average 20% annual growth in applicants from China over the previous three years. Enrollment too has been strong, averaging double-digit growth for seven consecutive years, so it will probably drop sharply when the autumn of this year comes around. That’s bad news for US business schools, which have been relying on foreign students to soften the blow of four years of declining enrollment (paywall). A fall in international applicants also means a particularly big dent in programs in business, science and engineering programs, of which over 75% of international students are enrolled. Chinese students especially flock to business schools—in 2011, one in five GMAT (paywall) test takers was Chinese.

But perhaps the drop in Chinese students, which the Council attributed to visa difficulties and competition from other foreign students, isn’t such a bad thing. We’ve argued on this site before that the current trend of foreign students coming to America isn’t contributing all that much to school diversity. (Over half of foreign students in the US are from four countries—China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Korea—and are enrolled in similar business, math or science-focused programs.) The Council’s April 8 report showed an uptick in the number of students applying from the Middle East (2%) and Africa (6%). Moreover, graduate schemes in the arts and humanities saw the largest increase in applicants, at 4%, of any of the programs.