Foreign graduate applicants decrease

by Elizabeth Dunbar

International graduate student applications are down 24 percent from one year ago, prompting University admissions officials to brainstorm recruitment options.

The approximately one-quarter drop is concerning, said graduate admissions director Andrea Scott, but more alarming is that international applications for engineering, physical science and mathematics programs are down 32 percent.

“There are things going on that we don’t understand,” Scott said.

There were 5,128 international graduate applications for fall admission as of April 4, down from 6,723 at the same time last year.

Scott said the good news is that applications from citizens and permanent residents are up 15 percent, but the overall number of graduate applications is still down 7 percent.

The University Graduate School does not currently devote resources to recruiting, but the Carlson School of Management’s Master of Business Administration program does, Scott said.

Some departments and undergraduate programs recruit informally, including sending recruitment materials with faculty or programs going abroad.

Scott said she thinks visa delays and heavier scrutiny of visa applicants are causing fewer students to apply.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. State Department officials have reviewed Middle Eastern students and those studying certain science fields more carefully.

Office of International Programs director Gene Allen said recruiting strategies have not been discussed yet but the numbers show a need for them.

“We probably need to do something,” he said. “The question is how we can be the most effective with the money we spend on it.”

One of the biggest concerns would be the added cost, Allen said.

“It’d be very expensive for us to put someone on the road to do recruiting,” he said.

Craig Peterson, International Student and Scholar Services assistant director, said the University has not put resources toward recruiting in the past because it has not had to.

“We don’t recruit because we’re well-known, large and have a tremendous number of alumni,” Peterson said.

In conversations with colleagues at other schools, International Student and Scholar Services director Kay Thomas said other schools have done more to recruit international students.

Michael Brzezinski, International Student and Scholars director at Purdue University, said his university has participated in recruiting trips since 1997 but does not recruit international graduate students.

Though Purdue experienced a 10 percent drop in international graduate applications this year, Brzezinski said, international student enrollment at the university has increased every year since 1979.

“Word-of-mouth recruiting has been our best selling point,” he said.

Sandra Kelzenberg, admissions director for the University’s MBA program, said the program uses alumni living abroad to recruit students.

In addition, she said, a representative attends recruiting fairs and interviews applicants abroad.

“In order for it to be cost-effective, you have to have a whole strategy,” Kelzenberg said.

Scott said she wants to see enrollment numbers for two years before devoting significant resources to recruiting.

“I’m concerned, but I keep telling myself not to worry until I see the evidence,” she said.

Allen said increased scrutiny of international students might cause them to look elsewhere.

“Some of them are simply going somewhere else for school,” he said.

But in the long term, he said, the numbers will recover.

“U.S. higher education is considered a real gem around the world,” he said. “It would take a number of different things to really take away from that.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]