October 6, 2000

U.S. Grad Students Decline in Numbers

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As more Americans opt to go directly into business rather than graduate school, fearing they will miss out on the current economic boom, international students are increasingly seeking graduate degrees in the United States.

This is not a new trend, according to Hilary Ford, assistant dean of the graduate school, the Johnson Graduate School of Management and director of graduate admissions. She confirmed, however, that the state of the economy is the primary factor in determining the rates of American versus international applicants to graduate programs.

“When the economy is very good, many Americans are not considering any further education after their bachelor’s degree. The majority go directly into the workforce, but when you have a poor economy, there are fewer openings and many feel if they had more qualifications they could find better jobs,” Ford said.

While this is as predictable as having a cyclic economy, she stressed that since the current economic boom, “it seems the best students who might have pursued graduate school are [also] going straight into the work force.” As a result, top international students find a plethora of opportunities to fill American programs that they view as academically superior, Ford said.

According to data from the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), the numbers of international graduate students at Cornell have increased steadily from 1,727 in 1990 to 1,884 in 1993, then decreased to 1,707 in 1997. But last year, international grad students numbers rebounded and peaked at 1,934.

Brendan O’Brien, director of ISSO, explained that these trends have affected the composition of the Cornell faculty and university faculties in general.

“I think the world is becoming more international. People are crossing borders more frequently than they used to, and I believe Cornell will continue to attract students from around the world based on the strength of its programs,” O’Brien said.

But there are exceptions, Ford clarified. Law and M.B.A. programs remain the two most popular graduate programs among American students who opt to continue with graduate studies.

Archived article by Ken Meyer