Each year,thousands of foreign graduate students come to the United States in pursuit of the American dream. Often,they are inspired by democracy and motivated by capitalism.
For many,in 2004,the dream is fading.
More than 90 percent of American colleges and universities report declines in the number of applications they received from foreign scholars for next fall's classes,according to a report published this month by the Council of Graduate Schools. Colleges reported admitting 32 percent fewer foreign grad students than for the current academic year.
After earning two degrees in New Delhi,Ram Mohan left everything behind in 1989 and came to the United States to earn a doctorate in chemistry. His traditional Indian,middle-class upbringing taught him “the single most important thing one can posses is a solid education.”
“I think the main reason was,and still is,that this is the best place to pursue a higher education,” Mohan said. “Hard work pays,and if you are good there is nothing that can stop you in this country.”
Mohan,an associate professor of chemistry at Illinois Wesleyan University,said that without his education at the University of Maryland he would probably still be in India where “there is less opportunity.”
No one can tell for certain why foreign students are deciding against an American,education but there are many theories.
One of the Sept. 11,2001,suicide hijackers was living in the country on a student visa. Since then,the dynamics of coming to the United States have changed.
“The problem here is that it is very difficult to ask people that don't show up why they didn't show up,” said Peter Syverson,the Council of Graduate Schools' vice president for research.
The council worked with international student advisers and graduate admissions officials and found three major reasons: the difficult process of obtaining a visa,the perception that the United States is not welcoming to foreign students and the rising costs of higher education here.
The report showed that the most severe drops in foreign applications were from the countries that usually send the most students,China,India and the Middle East. Of the universities polled,85 percent had fewer Chinese applicants and 69 percent had fewer Indian applicants.
The report also found that the programs most affected by the trend were engineering and physical sciences.
This may be partly attributed to the Visas Mantis program,established in 1989 to screen students applying for programs that the government believes might contribute to the illegal transfer of sensitive technology.
“The mechanics of getting to the U.S. … are much more difficult,” Syverson said. “We hear that more than any other reason,just the visa process.”
Any student wishing to study in this country is required to obtain a visa. The process begins with an application and an interview – which many students had been able to bypass pre-Sept. 11. After a review,the U.S. consulate decides either to award a visa or require a Mantis check by the FBI and State Department.
Students earmarked for Mantis clearance wait,on average,67 days for a response from the government,the GAO report said.
The India visa outpost where Mohan would have applied reported that in 2003 the average wait was approximately five months,according to the report.
This year,Duke University saw a nearly 26 percent decrease in the number of applications from foreign scholars.
“That … is made up almost exclusively of Chinese students,” said Bertie Belvin,associate dean of the Duke graduate school.
Although Belvin admitted some programs rely more on foreign students,Duke was able to fill its programs with promising students and did not lower admission requirements to do so.
Meanwhile,other English-speaking countries are reaping the benefits.
In Australia for the current academic year,international student enrollment at both the graduate and undergraduate level skyrocketed 16.5 percent,according to the Australian Government International Education Network.
The United States saw growth of less than 1 percent for the current academic year for graduate and undergraduate students,according to a report published by the Institute of International Education.
“I think,basically,Australia is coming forward as a premier destination for students,” said Carri Orrison,manager of information services at the Australian Education Office at the country's Washington embassy. “It took a couple of years.”
Syverson said he fears that the repercussions could get worse.
“If the U.S. is no longer the place that international students want to come to,will we miss the best and the brightest? Will we be hurt by that?” he said.