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December 21, 2004

U.S. Education in the World Redux

Stephen Darwall: December 21, 2004

Just a quick update of my earlier post ("U.S. Education in the World").  The New York Times has a very interesting article today along similar lines ("U.S. Slips in Attracting the World's Best Students.")  Among the most interesting statistics: the number of students from Indian and China who took the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam dropped by half.  That is an utterly amazing decline in the number of students from two of the worlds' major suppliers of intellectual talent in math, science, engineering, and computing who are even putting themselves into a position to apply to American graduate programs.  (The GRE is the major exam for almost all U.S. graduate programs.)  Also, foreign applications to American graduate programs declined 28 percent this year.  That also is a very big drop.  (Imagine if demand for some other important economic product, say, U.S. automobiles, were to drop by that much in a single year.  GM and Ford are in the tank because of declines that are roughly a third of that.  (Yes, I know that American postgraduate education is not a product in the same sense.  Most graduate research-linked education is heavily subsidized by financial aid.  But that is because it is a major engine of future economic development.  And that is the problem: our goose is laying fewer golden eggs and may continue to do so.)

The article goes on to develop much further a point I made in my earlier post, that a post-9/11 immigration lockdown (however hard or soft, e.g., long visa delays) has coincided with intensive efforts by many developed countries (including Germany, Canada, Australia, and the U.K.) to increase significantly their recruitment of foreign students, and, in the case of countries like Singapore and China to develop their own quality graduate science, math, and engineering programs. 

I suppose it is a hopeful sign that this issue has made it as close to the public radar screen as an article in the New York Times

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Comments

Posted by: superdestroyer

I have always felt that Asian graduate students are the "crack cocaine" of the US academic world. Too many professors become addicted to using them. Many of the Asian graduate students are quite content to spend much longer working as low paid graduate students than American born students.

Maybe US college professors should start tryingn to attrach graduate students instead of taking them for granted.

Posted by: superdestroyer | Dec 21, 2004 1:10:12 PM


Posted by: frankly0

Apparently the decline of 28% in applications from foreign students, and the decline of 50% in the numbers of Indian and Chinese students taking the GRE was in this most recent year. I don't see how this decline can be attributed to the additional trouble a foreign student has to undertake in getting a visa, which surely kicked in two or three years ago, right after 9/11.

Isn't the more likely explanation that the US has suffered a severe blow to its international reputation in the past year? And isn't that most likely due to the travesty of the Iraq war, and the mindless, arrogant policies of President "My way or the highway" Bush?

I'd like to hear of another explanation of the plummet in interest of foreign students at this exact time.

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 21, 2004 2:18:56 PM


Posted by: Robert Gressis

First, although the article shows a trend that's bad news for America, that same trend exists because of developments that are good news for the world as a whole. China's attempt to develop 100 top-flight universities is good for the production of new knowledge and skilled workers, and the attmept on the part of European and Australasian universities to emulate U.S.-style universities seems to me to be good news for students in those regions (however, I have first-hand experience only with the German system of higher education, so I can't say that with too much confidence).

As for the bad news about America: the NYT article makes clear that the reason for reduced applications, enrollment, etc., is post-September 11 security precautions. One question I'd like answered is: How useful are the new security proceudres for U.S. security? The article indicates that the U.S. has increased scrutiny of students from all countries (although the scrutiny of Chinese and students from the Middle East seems highest, for what are I hope good reasons). Should we really engage in super-detailed background checks of students from India who intend to enroll in a creative writing program? Perhaps our security procedures should simply be more discriminatory; after all, I take it that most American officials are worried specifically about an Islamic fundamentalist threat rather than just terrorism in general. Of course, that might violate all sorts of principles of fairness and constitutional protections, but it seems to me to be the method most compatible with the goals of protection and maintaining our academic excellence.

Posted by: Robert Gressis | Dec 21, 2004 2:21:25 PM


Posted by: Robert Gressis

frankly0: well, the article mentions an especially precipitous drop among Indian students. Do we have some reason to think that the war was more unpopular in India than in other countries?

The war might be a contributing factor, although I doubt it's much of one. Maybe I'm being overly cynical in my very of human nature, but I doubt that most students would squander the opportunity to study in America just because they view the foreign policy of its government as imprudent or immoral. My guess is that the reason for the decline is a combination of tightened American security and more attractive non-American academic options that just happened to coincide at the point at which it did. After all, information often takes some time to diffuse through a population, and there's no reason to think that this information was any different.

Posted by: Robert Gressis | Dec 21, 2004 2:29:45 PM


Posted by: frankly0

frankly0: well, the article mentions an especially precipitous drop among Indian students. Do we have some reason to think that the war was more unpopular in India than in other countries?

Well, this post by Kevin Drum, and the article he quotes from, suggests that India HAS developed a very negative view of the US of late, and I'd expect that the war and Bush have not had a great deal to do with that.

Why should it affect particularly the views of Indians and the Chinese?
Here's my bit of speculation. Suppose I'm from India or China. My country has over 1 billion people. I see the supposedly mighty US military get overwhelmed by trying to control a population of only 25 million in Iraq.

How much do I now fear the US?

I think, not very much. The US starts to look like a rather overbearing bully, on its way down.

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 21, 2004 2:50:28 PM


Posted by: frankly0

I'd expect that the war and Bush have not had

in my previous post should read

I'd expect that the war and Bush have had

Duh.

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 21, 2004 2:52:38 PM


Posted by: LPFabulous

How much do I now fear the US?

I think, not very much. The US starts to look like a rather overbearing bully, on its way down.

I'm not sure I see how this would affect one's decision to go to grad school in the United States. It would be incredibly silly if it did. Bad foreign policy doesn't indicate bad graduate education, especially given that the academic community is not exactly full of warm sentiments for George Bush.

Posted by: LPFabulous | Dec 21, 2004 3:05:01 PM


Posted by: frankly0

Bad foreign policy doesn't indicate bad graduate education, especially given that the academic community is not exactly full of warm sentiments for George Bush.

I think it's pretty obvious that the prestige of the United States worldwide DOES affect a decision to come here as a graduate student. If one perceives the influence of the US as waning, and as becoming less and less relevant, particularly in one's own region of the world, why go to great trouble and expense to get a US degree? Who, exactly, is it going to impress in years to come?

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 21, 2004 3:13:56 PM


Posted by: Barry

"Apparently the decline of 28% in applications from foreign students, and the decline of 50% in the numbers of Indian and Chinese students taking the GRE was in this most recent year. I don't see how this decline can be attributed to the additional trouble a foreign student has to undertake in getting a visa, which surely kicked in two or three years ago, right after 9/11. "

Posted by: frankly0 |

This could also be accounted for by the ramping up of security precautions, and people getting caught in them, and word getting around. For example, I knew a nursing student from China who did not return home this summer, despite urgent personal reasons. She was terrified of not being able to get back into the US. She had stories of people being refused re-entry, and spending a year trying to get back in.

Posted by: Barry | Dec 21, 2004 4:21:51 PM


Posted by: Mimiru

I don't post much but I'd have to say that with a drop in US prestige, combined with an upswing in your own home nation's prestige in the case of India and China it becomes easy to see it.

Also Professors please treat non-professors as people, whether that be grad students, or secretaries.

Posted by: Mimiru | Dec 21, 2004 4:59:48 PM


Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti

The New York Times article was interesting. I would like to know whether the reduction in foreign graduate students is being felt at all institutions, or whether it is concentrated in any way (such as at the second and third tiers of American universities). While taken as a whole, our universities undoubtedly still lead the world, as we all know, there is a big difference between the elite tier of private and public research universities (the top 20-30 or so) and the garden variety second-level-within-each-state public university. While an American degree and training hold great prestige, perhaps what's at work, as much as anything else, is an improvement of overall quality abroad that permits the next to the top level of foreign students (who would not be competitive at the US first tier) a wider range of good choices, especially when you factor the US security issues in.

This is just spectulation, but my larger point is that without more information about which students arent' coming, and where the ones who do come are going (and hence, where students are in fewer numbers), it is premature to draw too many conclusions about a US decline.

Another factor could be cost. The elite universities in this country are priced so far out of line to the rest of the world (let alone our own second and third tiers) that I suspect there may be economic factors at work.

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti | Dec 21, 2004 6:02:22 PM


Posted by: frankly0

This could also be accounted for by the ramping up of security precautions, and people getting caught in them, and word getting around.

If it's taking you days standing in a line to get a visa, it seems to me you don't have to wait for somebody else to tell you it's bad out there. You are in a privileged position to declare it bad. No word of mouth necessary.

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 21, 2004 6:04:42 PM


Posted by: bakho

This is because all the best and the brightest are now headed to Australia who is making a major play. Bush has sent the message, "We don't like foreigners". Australia is much closer, the education is almost as good, and the hassle is far less. Bush has alienated all foreigners and this damage will last for decades. Indians don't even give a WTF about America anymore. They see themselves and China as the competitors of the 21st Century and have written off the US as a has been. Bush is living in 1984. This is 2004 MFer.

Posted by: bakho | Dec 21, 2004 9:02:03 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

The post-9/11 security issues have indeed caused problems, including many cases of international grad students who were already enrolled getting stuck overseas when they went to visit their families and were held up in getting their visas renewed. Our Univ. President, who is also a former CIA director, wrote an op-ed in the NYT on this last Spring .

If there is another sharp decline spcific to this year, there is a one-word explanation: SEVIS. We now have to charge foreign students something like $100 for background checks in order to qualify them for visas. It's not just the long lines, the unsympathetic visa officers and so on. We've made it cost more. And when something costs more, people buy less of it.

The notion that this has anything to do with foreign students deciding to avoid the US after W's reelection is nonsense, unless these students had clearer insights into the future than our pundits. I bet most of these application and GRE stats are from before the election.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Dec 22, 2004 2:02:53 AM


Posted by: frankly0

We now have to charge foreign students something like $100 for background checks in order to qualify them for visas. It's not just the long lines, the unsympathetic visa officers and so on. We've made it cost more. And when something costs more, people buy less of it.

So far as I know, virtually all foreign students pay full tuition anyway -- you're talking maybe 40K a year at top schools.

Is it in any way plausible that a mere $100 is any kind of real deterrent?

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 22, 2004 2:38:05 AM


Posted by: frankly0

It just doesn't strike me in general that it's terribly likely that it's deterrents such as a more complicated visa process that are reducing the number of foreign applicants. In the end, I'd expect virtually every potential student DOES get the necessary visa, even if at the cost of considerably more trouble. The thing is, in the pursuit of the best education, students both here and abroad have ALWAYS gone to enormous pains to go to the best university opportunity for them. Students study very hard for four long years, often taking extracurricular courses to pass entrance tests and the like, and generally sacrificing many pleasant things in their lives to put themselves at the greatest advantage in getting the most desirable acceptance. A long line at a consulate is NOT by itself going to be much of a deterrent, I wouldn't think, in this larger body of effort.

What WOULD significantly alter where they would apply is the perception that the prestige of American degrees in their own country and region has dramatically dropped. It is almost certainly the loss of desirability of degrees from American institutions that drives the plummet in applications.

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 22, 2004 2:51:16 AM


Posted by: STS

I have no opinion on the cause of what must be a matter subject to a degree of empirical proof: the drop in enrollment of foreign students.

However, for the sake of argument, let's assume that this drop has been caused by an increase in security precuations and the diminished status of the United States in world opinion.

Does it follow that the US should drop its new security procedures and alter its foreign policy? No it doesn't. Arguments for doing one or both need to be made on their own merits.

Those of us who believe that we are at war are prepared to accept the fact that we can't have both guns and butter, whatever the President says.

Posted by: STS | Dec 22, 2004 3:22:00 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

To reiterate an earlier post on the first thread, I’m not sure what the fuss is about. U.S. colleges and universities are, among other things, in the business of providing undergraduate and graduate education. They compete with each other and now they increasingly compete with foreign universities for that business. There are all sorts of reasons why U.S. schools may currently seem less comparatively attractive than some of their foreign counterparts: cost, visa difficulties, a foreign student’s preference to study in his own culture and / or language, etc. Some of these comparative disadvantages may be fairly short term (Orwellian fears notwithstanding, the War On Terrorism will not rage on decade after decade), some may simply be signs that parts of the rest of the world are really catching up.

Good for them. Good for us, too. Competition improves quality.

The branded universities, and especially those with huge endowments and obscene infusions of federal cash each year, have little to fear. Faculty compensation for the natural sciences and engineering dwarf foreign salaries; hell, we even pay philosophy professors vastly more than their foreign counterparts! The infusion of foreign students in science and engineering programs in the U.S. was largely the result of a lack of interested and qualified American students in the first place – more of those jobs American’s just didn’t want to do. English remains the default language for scientific research and the de facto second language for most of the rest of the world.

Now, none of that means that the U.S. shall (or should) forever be predominant in higher education. Sic transit gloria mundi, as saying goes. Even so, it’s a bit premature to be writing the intellectual obit for M.I.T. or, for that matter, [Your State Goes Here] A&T.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 22, 2004 8:35:00 AM


Posted by: frankly0

Those of us who believe that we are at war are prepared to accept the fact that we can't have both guns and butter, whatever the President says.

Well, it would be just awfully nice if those of you who still support the war would present SOME point of entry where the evidence of failure might actually penetrate. No WMD, no matter. No Saddam-Osama connection, no matter. No real likelihood of a democracy agreeable to American interests in Iraq, no matter. Our military is stretched so far it can't fully engage other potential trouble spots, no matter. The entire Arabic world hates us, no matter. Our allies now despise us and ignore us, no matter. Over a thousand of our soldiers are killed, no matter.

Talking to you people is like talking to a Jehovah's Witness. Why even bother?

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 22, 2004 9:36:31 AM


Posted by: Jim Hu

frankly0,

So far as I know, virtually all foreign students pay full tuition anyway -- you're talking maybe 40K a year at top schools.

I don't have the stats, but I suspect that you are very wrong on this. At the schools where I've been and where I have faculty colleagues, there are large numbers of foreign grad students in the sciences and engineering. These are almost all paid on assistantships of one kind or another, and the cost of tuition is factored into these assistantships, either in the form of waivers or by having tuition paid off the research grants of their faculty mentors. In my field, molecular biology, the numbers of foreign students are much higher at second tier schools, largely because graduate students are often supported by institutional training grants from NIH and NSF that can only be used to pay for US citizens and permanent residents.

In any case, the $100 fee is a much bigger deal to the student when they're still in China or India. Once they get to the US, where they can work on the side, the fees are not significant (did you know that we also make them buy insurance to pay for repatriating their bodies if they die while they're here?). However, they can't borrow the fees against the possibility of getting that higher paying US assistantship in the future.

In the end, I'd expect virtually every potential student DOES get the necessary visa

You're wrong about this one too. Significant fractions of incoming graduate classes have been turned down, especially in Beijing, even after US universities have accepted them into their graduate programs.

I also agree that we should expect the numbers should decline as the economies and educational systems ramp up in these countries. When I was a grad student in the 1970s, there were a lot more foreign postdocs from Japan than there are now. Opportunities for high-powered science in Japan have exploded since then, and we don't see very many Japanese students or postdocs anymore.

In thinking about this, the growth in the Chinese economy probably also accounts for a decline in a particular kind of applicant we used to see a lot of...students would apply to programs just to get a visa, and transfer as soon as possible to a business or computer science program, with the hope of getting a lucrative job here. I see less of that now...perhaps because the opportunities to get rich in China without having to go to school overseas have increased. So you are undoubtedly correct in the assessment that the value of a US degree has declined, but I think it's relative to the alternatives, not in absolute terms based on our foreign policy reputation.

Look, it's not that they don't dislike our foreign policy...although I suspect that on average the international students are a bit to the right of the typical US applicant (we're talking about the academic subpopulation, remember). There are students who come here based on the idea that we have the resources to do the good science as a result of imperialism+dumb luck, but they come here because we put the "obscene infusions of federal cash" in our universities, and their countries don't and can't. Heck, one problem we have is with some foreign students who don't think we can actually teach them anything - they think they can come here and use our own system to blow us out of the water based on their superior secondary education, their superior quantitative GRE scores, their ancient cultures that invented everything, and so on.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Dec 22, 2004 1:22:34 PM


Posted by: Nick

frankly0,

Maybe, just maybe, because there were WMD in Iraq [at least small quantities] (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5060648/) and Saddam didn't dismantle his chem/bio program (http://www.cia.gov/cia/reports/iraq_wmd_2004/chap5.html#sect0).

Maybe because there WAS a connection between Saddam and Osama, just not Saddam and 9/11(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/04/27/walq27.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/04/27/ixnewstop.html - http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/378fmxyz.asp?pg=1 - http://tennessean.com/nation-world/archives/03/06/34908297.shtml?Element_ID=34908297
).

Maybe because the Arab world has always hated us because of our policies regarding Israel, and while it's a situation that shouldn't be ignored, quite frankly I DON'T CARE that they hate U.S. policies. It's not something I see changing anytime in the near future, regardless of what we do or don't do.

Maybe because I'd rather there was a possibility, no matter how unlikely, that the Iraqi people would be better off than under Saddam.

Maybe because we have many allies and it's unreasonable to expect all of them to agree with all US policy all the time, especially on matters as significant as war. Besides, the issues they have are with the policies, and not the American people so I'm not afraid of being despised (http://www.harrisinteractive.com/news/allnewsbydate.asp?NewsID=780).

I can agree with you about the thin military - DAMN Clinton for those defense cuts!

Each death is tragic, but only becomes an issue when the 'justness' of the war is in doubt. The deaths themselves don't tip the balance one way or the other.

Evidence of failure seems to be somewhat subjective since I'm sure you have arguments why we have failed. Like others have mentioned before, we 'Jehovah Witnesses' have heard those arguments and disagree with them.

- If you don't want dialog, you shouldn't bother.
- If you want to convince people of your view, you probably shouldn't bother - I doubt anyone here, on any side of an issue, is going to switch to the other side.
- If you want to lean more about why people have the views they have, then you SHOULD bother, since that seems to be the direction this site is taking.

- Nick

Posted by: Nick | Dec 22, 2004 1:42:31 PM


Posted by: frankly0

Nick,

So, by your account, there really were WMD people should care about, and was a connection between Saddam and Osama that was real significance, and it just doesn't matter if the Arab world hates us all the more (giving rise, of course, to ever more terrorists), and it apparently doesn't matter to you how remote might be the prospect of an American friendly democracy in Iraq. And the number of American soldiers killed in this effort is of no consequence to you, if you can, on whatever pretext, convince yourself that it is a "just" war -- as if the justness of a war is totally disconnected from the toll that war exacts in human lives. (And how flimsy your pretexts are is obvious in the lameness of the "justifications" you've already offered up.)

I can only say that if these are your "defenses", then indeed you should make a fine soulmate for a Jehovah's Witness. Maybe you should face a basic reality about yourself: you would count nothing as evidence of a failed war, NOTHING.

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 22, 2004 2:07:23 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

Sheesh...this topic had the potential to discuss some interesting and important questions about the costs and benefits associated with security concerns and recruitment of foreign students to US universities. I see that it's degenerating into the Iraq war debate. Can we take that somewhere else please? We went, we're there, we can't undo that part. It is/was an important debate, but so is the topic of the original post, IMHO.

In the hope of bringing the discussion back to foreign students and universities...I'd like to respond to a sentiment expressed by DA Ridgely that is implicit in some of the other posts.

U.S. colleges and universities are, among other things, in the business of providing undergraduate and graduate education. They compete with each other and now they increasingly compete with foreign universities for that business. There are all sorts of reasons why U.S. schools may currently seem less comparatively attractive than some of their foreign counterparts...
By and large, in science and engineering, grad students aren't primarily customers for the educational product...they're labor for the production of the research product of Universities and, to a lesser extent, to provide TAs for the undergraduate education. The education purchased by grad students is a benefit that is part of their total compensation, along with health insurance and the like. It's a major reason why students are willing to work for stipends that, while larger than what was being paid when I went to grad school, are still less than what a US student with a BS would get starting in a company. Foreign students are more willing to take these positions because they are largely shut out of the BS level US job market, and because their home countries don't provide comparable alternative opportunities...yet.

But the point is that these "students" should be viewed mainly as a cost to running a university, and expecially to running a research university. Not as customers. As noted above, they're mostly paying tuition and fees with money we pay them. To the extent that increased security measures like SEVIS and visa refusals make it harder for foreign students to come here, these things raise the cost of doing business for the universities. This may lead to higher ed turning into a different kind of product, since the market of real customers (state legislatures, parents, funding agencies) may not be willing to pay the higher costs for the same product or worse. But from the point of view of those of us who think that the US research university has been a raging success in the post-WWII period (not perfect by any means, but largely good), this is a problem. Of course, the fact that we view our ox as being gored also makes us think of this as being something worth raising a fuss about.

Now, just as in other aspects of the immigration question, there are moderate positions between closing the borders and completely unrestricted access. I don't have a problem with some increased scrutiny of foreign applicants based on national security/terrorism concerns. But just as it's stupid for the TSA to be spending their effort on little old ladies, it's stupid to overreact on student visas. To my knowledge, none of the terrorists in 9/11 or afterward were tiny Chinese women, much less tiny Chinese women with degrees from top Chinese universities that involved taking physical chemistry. But that's the kind of student who is being hassled. We also had a Chinese faculty member get stuck for background checking and miss the beginning of the semester. I've heard of white Canadians having problems.

And when this kind of stuff happens in a way that is not predictable, it disrupts our abilty to do teaching and research. And I spend my time trying to figure out how to get these people through the CYA bureaucracy instead of other work. Multiply this by dozens of departments and hundreds of universities and you get a lot of effort expended to protect you from the threat of...what?

Posted by: Jim Hu | Dec 22, 2004 2:22:22 PM


Posted by: Nick

frankly0,

Yup, that about sums it up. I'm a wait and see kind of guy, so no, I won't pass judgement on success or failure until we are out of Iraq, it stands/fall on its own, and the wider impacts are known. Neither you nor I can know the future, so success or failure is never a sure thing.

I can't help that you don't think much of my defenses, but, like I already said, the vast majority of people here are not going to change their worldview based on this blog. That's not what it's here for (as I understand it). Your disdain certainly isn't going to sway me. If you have some facts you want to share to explain why you think my defenses are weak, then I'd be open to seeing them.

- Nick

P.S. Were the lives lost in WWI and WWII 'worth it'? I say yes. Was is a horrible and tragic loss of human life and potential? I say yes. Knowing the likelihood of dead in those conflicts, if I was there now, would I join the military? I say yes. What do you think?

Posted by: Nick | Dec 22, 2004 2:29:23 PM


Posted by: Nick

Good point Jim. No more from me.

- Nick

Posted by: Nick | Dec 22, 2004 2:31:03 PM


Posted by: frankly0

Jim Hu,

While you claim that a very large number of foreign students who don't pay anything like full tuition, that is very hard to square with the numbers quoted in the NY Times article. According to that article, foreign students contribute app $13B to the American economy each year, and there are 586,000 of them enrolled. That would imply, that, on average, a foreign student has over $20,000 contributed by him or on his behalf towards his education per year. Now of course this is an average, so there may well be a good number of students who can put up very little money for their education. But $20,000 is so large a number that it's hard to see how there could be very sizable numbers of students for whom $100 is a real and decisive burden, enough to put them off from applying to a US school. Seriously, could it be that there are enough impoverished students that the new financial burden of $100 might begin to account for a 28% drop in applications among graduate students? Could the distribution of money spent by foreign students be that profoundly skewed?

You also say that a good proportion of Chinese students are refused visas even after being accepted at a US university. It would be very good to see some numbers here, and in particular to see if they changed dramatically after 9/11.

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 22, 2004 2:35:32 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

When I think about it, you're probably right about the fee - I'm trying to remember if the student has to pay it before being admitted or only after. If it's only after, then it is not a significant burden relative to future earnings, unless the visa denial rate is high enough to make for a significant probability that you go through the whole application/admission process, pay the US $100, and get stuck in Beijing in the end anyway. If the denial rate is that high, then it's the denial rate more than the fee that's the problem (from the point of view of the student). In any case, this would not affect applications, but might affect matriculation...and the article says applications are down too.

On the contribution to the economy - I don't know how they calculate the numbers, but given the way most things are multiplied by indirect effects (e.g. the typical discussion of how a new baseball stadium will contribute to a local economy, for example), I suspect that the $13B is not money that is injected from out-of-country sources to the US GDP. $20K per year per student is suspiciously close to what I'd guess as the average graduate stipend nationwide. Much of this is spent on food, housing, cars, etc. I also suspect that when we pay them a stipend that covers tuition, and then they use it to pay their tuition, that counts as a contribution of international students to the tuition income of the university...and in a sense it is, because the money is transferred between different pots of funds. Once a student is in my lab, the university is getting tuition from my federal research grant. It's a gain for the university and a cost to my grant.

I could be wrong, and I haven't been successful in my attempts to find information better than my anecdotal evidence via Googling.

Similarly, I haven't been able to find F-1 visa denial rates on the web. Our experience and anecdotal stuff I've heard indicates that it is worse post 9/11, but I agree that some real numbers would be useful. If someone has better luck finding them, let me know! There have been years when we've had about half denied and other years when everyone came (all since 9/11/2001). There were years when we got most of ours through and other departments reported not getting theirs. The problem for us is not so much the rate of denials as their unpredictability combined with the fluctuations of small numbers. Moreover, these decisions tend to be dragged out until quite close to the start of the academic year. Note that a visa can be denied if the student can't convince the examiner that she isn't planning on becoming a more permanent immigrant to the US.. and there's no way to really prove that.

The more I look at the article, the more I wonder what's actually going on. The three indicators:
Taking the GRE down by about half
Applications down by about 28%
Enrollments down by 6%

So the number who show up is only down 6%! I'm wondering about the GRE and application numbers. The GRE numbers could be down if either a) students in China and India are calibrating whether it's worth their while to go for a US school based on their undergrad performance...their English-language skills are strongly predictive of getting into a US program and also of whether they'll pass the visa interview, b) students may be retaking the exam less, c) the change from the multiple choice analytical test to the essay-based writing test may have deterred some, and d) there may have been a crackdown on fraud in the Chinese GRE. There were a lot of rumors about ringers a couple of years ago.

The application numbers may reflect the same number of serious applicants applying to fewer schools. This could reflect schools doing more unofficial prescreening of informal applicants, or students getting better counseling about where they are most likely to get in.

For the 6% decline in enrollment, I'd also like to see whether admissions are up or down, and by how much. The visa denial and other delays will prompt students who got into both a non-US school and a US school to go to the one that gets them through the paperwork first. Bird in the hand, and so on.

It might be interesting to see more different ways of looking at the data.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Dec 22, 2004 6:32:18 PM


Posted by: Amitabh

"The war might be a contributing factor, although I doubt it's much of one. Maybe I'm being overly cynical in my very of human nature, but I doubt that most students would squander the opportunity to study in America just because they view the foreign policy of its government as imprudent or immoral."

- (I'm Indian, by the way) you're right that Indians haven't dropped their enrollment because of abstract reasons. However, this isn't abstract: The war is seen as concrete proof that 'white' Americans care less about those who are brown. Infer from Iraqis to Indians. Indians see the war as an indication that they will not be treated as well, in America, as they would, if they went to, say, Canada, or even the UK (*even* those militaristic pigs who colonised us!). Indeed, the various, I'd say 'hate crimes,' that followed 9/11 indicated this.

Also, keep in mind that 1/5th of Indians are Muslim. America is not a good place to be Muslim, these days.

Of course, America, in terms of education, is not as needed as it was before, as the NYT article says...

Posted by: Amitabh | Dec 22, 2004 8:33:05 PM


Posted by: LPFabulous

The war is seen as concrete proof that 'white' Americans care less about those who are brown.

That is a profoundly strange interpretation of the war in Iraq. Sure it's been severely messed up, but it was a war of liberation. Saddam was a brutal murderer who is gone now. The people of Iraq are about to vote in their very first meaningful election.

Not to mention that the Bush administration's policies with regard to Israel and Palestine (combined with the death of Arafat) have us in a position to make the first real gains in peace in decades.

Bush's associates (not necessarily Bush himself) are virtually all pro-trade. You know, the same guys who put their fingers in their ears when the mercantilist left starts crying about comparative advantage (which they've dubbed "outsourcing"). The same guys who are in the process of providing India and China with some great new tech jobs.

All in all, I'd say Bush hasn't exactly been horrible for "brown" people.

Posted by: LPFabulous | Dec 22, 2004 11:35:20 PM


Posted by: STS

Well, one recurring theme in this post is the idea that the international level of fear and hostility directed against the US, which results in diminished enrollment of foreign students, is well-earned and perfectly reasonable.

This is arguable, but might be made more so by confronting some of the complexities that attend.

For instance, the apparently implicit argument that the US is wrecking a Beneficent System of International Security is not one to impress the long-suffering Iraqis, nor the diminishing population of Darfur, anymore than it does a majority of Americans. The Left's aversion to confronting the UN on Food for Oil, on its structural hypocrisy on questions of human rights, on its monomaniacal fixation on Israel as a transgressor, and on its comprehensive fecklessness might be a boon to international Left-wing solidarity, bitching and American-bashing, but the Republicans, you better believe, know how to use it. Could the Republicans, possibly, have a few points?

For instance, Amitabh in the post two above opines that “America is not a good place to be Muslim, these days.” Such a statement, however well intentioned it might be, carries simplification into the realm of objective falsehood. Whether Amitabh is a Leftist or not, this is the kind of statement that guarantees the continued marginalization of the Left in America, even as it encourages the continued marginalization of the US in world sentiment. Some people will believe what Amitabh says, and then they won’t come to America.

The ones who won’t come will be rich foreign elites who will go on, nevertheless, to shape world public opinion, and their failure to visit America will be a shame for many reasons, of which here I supply two:

The first is that they will fail to observe, with their own eyes, that Amitabh has it perfectly ass-backwards, and that according to every known index, ---freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of economic opportunity, gender freedom, standard of living, healthcare, etc., etc., it is better to be a Muslim in America than it is to be a Muslim in any Muslim-majority country on earth.

The second is that they will fail to observe American democracy in action, and so will succumb to the current, wide-spread delusion that America is full of ignorant yahoos spoon-fed propaganda by the hegemons of Capital and Christology. Instead, they will find a vibrant democracy confronting questions that whole portions of the world simply ignore.

The Left can do its part to attract more foreign students by simply standing up, not for America’s policies but for America herself, as a democratic work in progress.

Posted by: STS | Dec 23, 2004 1:15:37 AM


Posted by: Amitabh

LPFabulous - "All in all, I'd say Bush hasn't exactly been horrible for "brown" people."

STS - "Amitabh in the post two above opines that 'America is not a good place to be Muslim, these days.' Such a statement, however well intentioned it might be, carries simplification into the realm of objective falsehood."

LP & STS:

Whether or not we agree on the objective realities, the fact remains: America is not *seen* as a good place to be a Muslim, or brown. I was in India a few months back; the degree of hostility I saw towards Americans was quite surprising (and this was in Bombay, the most 'westernised' bit of India!)...things have certainly changed in the last few years. That's part of my basis for saying that "America is seen..."

STS: "...carries simplification into the realm of objective falsehood" Perhaps you haven't read (in a recent survey) that a large percentage of Americans favour restriction of American citizens' rights if they happen to be Muslim. People notice these things, as well as personally experience them. There are a lot of other indicators.

Brown Muslims, especially, notice, even if you don't.

Indians have thought, all along, that Americans were racist (and religion-ist, to coin a term). However, Indians' admiration of Americans' power & supposed 'good intentions' counterbalanced those negative views. The equation has now changed.

In these times, the propositions that:
1) it is better to be a Muslim in America than it is to be a Muslim in any Muslim-majority country on earth.
2) they will find a vibrant democracy confronting questions that whole portions of the world simply ignore.

and such, are believed only (or predominantly) by Americans. It doesn't make sense for you to assume that everyone believes these things.. it just isn't true. You can easily find proof for this - google up polls, surveys from other countries, and so on. You may surely argue for the objective truth of these propositions, of course, but don't confuse that with believing that 'people', in general, share your beliefs.

I maintain that this is quite a major reason that Indian enrollment (I can't speak for China...) in US universities is dropping. The college I went to (in Ohio) recently experienced a *major* drop in enrollment, and tighter visa rules was cited as one reason, in the official college alumni magazine. However, the tighter visa rules and so forth are unofficially *considered* to be (Note: I don't say they *are*, just that they are *considered* to be) merely an effect of American bigotry, as illustrated in the war, which is considered to be mass-murder of Iraqis, by a large proportion of Indians.

Is this simplistic? Yes, of course. The inferences of the 'common man' often are. That doesn't change how it's seen.

Posted by: Amitabh | Dec 23, 2004 9:50:23 AM


Posted by: STS

Amitabh,

I don't question your account of how America is perceived in the world. I agree, for instance, that the war in Iraq is widely perceived as racist and colonial.

My point is a simple one. The international security system is broken and it was broken before we invaded Iraq. The focus on America as a villian (outside the US) and on Bush as the villian (from the American Left) ignores the nature of the threat to international political stability. Declining enrollment of foreign students is lamentable and probably does follow from the perceptions you note, but those perceptions are symptomatic of a far larger problem.

Posted by: STS | Dec 23, 2004 4:04:17 PM


Posted by: Antti

Jim Hu, the $100 Sevis fee must be paid before applying for the visa. The visa application itself costs about the same (80e). None of this is refunded in case of denial. I wouldn't be surprised if the cost made a difference for someone in a poor country who's unsure of his or her chances.

Posted by: Antti | Dec 23, 2004 7:21:30 PM


Posted by: Amitabh

STS - Your point is irrelevant to the thread, so I shush up...

Posted by: Amitabh | Dec 23, 2004 8:57:00 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

Antti,

Thanks. But does anyone pay the SEVIS fee before getting an I-20 from a school that admits them?

Posted by: Jim Hu | Dec 23, 2004 10:40:12 PM


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