“During this academic year, we have more total international students than we have ever had in history,” said Brendan O’Brien, Cornell’s director of the International Students and Scholars Office.
Though over a third of the nation is seeing a significant decline in international graduate student applications, Cornell appears to be dedicating itself to diversity, with an above-average number of applicants.
The Council of Graduate Schools recently released a survey that revealed a startling decrease in the rate of growth of international applications.
“There has been a 3-percent increase [nationwide], which is a significant decline from the past years,” said Stuart Heiser, manager of Government Relations and External Affairs for the CGS.
Although the rates of international applications have been growing, the CGS believes that the slowdown may be irreversible.
[img_assist|nid=30116|title=National Graduate Student Application Rates By Year|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]“Given that international competition for the world’s most talented students continues to grow, we may not be able to return to the levels we saw in past years,” said Debra Stewart, president of the CGS, in a press release.
The decline was not consistent across the U.S., and the various trends leave much room for speculation about the cause of the slowdown. According to Heiser, 38 percent of schools had declines in application growth, and “in general everyone was either up a lot or down a lot.”
Cornell was in the former category, with 35.1 percent of its total graduate and professional school body coming from other countries, according to the ISSO’s annual statistics report for 2007-2008. O’Brien attributed this to the University’s positive global image.
“I think Cornell has a world-wide reputation — it is generally thought of as a place where international students will thrive, and we strive to help them get over obstacles,” O’Brien said.
The survey, which began in 2004, highlighted the discrepancies amongst the nation’s schools — while 38 percent had declines, the remaining 62 percent of school had increases, but at varying rates of growth.
“This survey was only on applications. We know what prospective applicants have done, but we don’t know what institutions have done
with them,” Heiser said. “It is not at all a standard distribution. After 2001 and the State Department enacted the Patriot Act, it was much tougher for foreign students to get visas – either not at all, or too late. Since then, the State Department has improved the visa process, and employed more staff overseas to help remediate the issues.”
Even with the new measures in place, almost two thirds of schools have been unable to reverse the declines they suffered in 2004 and 2005.
“65 percent still have lower application rates than they did in 2003, but at the same time there has been a perception that the U.S. is not welcoming to foreign students,” Heiser said.
O’Brien cited the amplified security and difficulty of admittance into the U.S. as reasons for our nations portrayal abroad as unfriendly.
“There was a definite increase in immigration regulations, particularly after 9/11, and we have to do a lot to help students stay in compliance,” O’Brien said. “From 2002-2005 there was a dip in applications, and the U.S. was seen as a less hospitable place. There have been more security obstacles, but it’s not necessarily something that prevents them from coming,” O’Brien said.
The arduous immigration laws and regulations isn’t all that is stopping some international students from applying. According to Heiser, the U.S. is also beginning to see a decline in applications due to the efforts of other nations to draw the top graduate students.
“Other western countries like Canada and England are becoming increasingly competitive, as well as Australia and New Zealand,” Heiser said. “Several countries have enacted international studies to recruit international students, and Asia is expanding their own graduate education. Students now have more opportunities at home and in other countries.”
According to Heiser, the U.S. is going to have to start taking a more active stance on recruiting if it wants to stay at the top of the global education front.
“The U.S. has always been the number one destination, and that’s still the case, but there is much more competition. We don’t have a national strategy,” Heiser said.
In O’Brien’s opinion, Cornell is striving to recruit the best and the brightest from all over the world, in order to better prepare its graduates for real world experience
“Domestic students need to be able to interact with people from all over the world, because they will need to do that when they enter the work force,” O’Brien said.
Heiser commended Cornell for its ability to maintain a strong international body of students, citing the University’s high ranking as an assurance of drawing large numbers of applicants.
“Other top schools have never had a problem finding enough applicants, so it doesn’t necessarily matter to Cornell that there was a decline in applications, because they will still be able to draw enough students, but we’re still noticing that decline,” Heiser said.