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More Foreign Grads Enter U.S. Colleges

By Tamar Lewin

The number of international students entering American graduate schools rose 1 percent this year, despite a 5 percent drop in applications from foreign students, according to the annual report by the Council of Graduate Schools.

While the increase is small, it follows several years of decline. “This increase in first-time international students is a very good sign, and I am hopeful that it signals a turnaround in the trend of declining numbers,” Debra W. Stewart, the council president, said in a statement.

China and India send the most students to the United States, and the council collected data on those from China, India, Korea and the Middle East, from which students are least able to get visas. The largest increase in first-time international enrollment came among Middle Eastern students, whose numbers were up 11 percent. Enrollment of Chinese and Indian students increased 3 percent, and Koreans were up 5 percent.

The increase in Chinese enrollment is noteworthy because declines in Chinese students’ enrollment and applications last year were the largest of any of the countries included in the report. In 2004, applications from Chinese students declined by 45 percent. In addition, China is spending billions of dollars to woo big-name scholars, build first-class research laboratories and transform its top universities into the world’s best.

The annual report also found changes in the international students’ fields of study, with increases in those studying engineering, physical sciences and business, and declines in the numbers enrolling in education, humanities, social sciences and life sciences.

The decline in education students was particularly steep, with first-time enrollment down by 15 percent.

The number of new international students enrolling in American graduate schools peaked in 2002. And because graduate studies typically last for several years, the overall number of international graduate students in the United States is still down 3 percent from last year, despite the increase in new enrollment.

The report is based on an initial survey of a sample of graduate institutions, so it is not yet possible to report the number of international students who enrolled in American graduate programs for the first time this fall.