The growth in international-student enrollments at U.S. graduate schools leveled off considerably in 2008, while enrollments of domestic graduate students spiked, according to a new report from the Council of Graduate Schools.
The number of foreign students on temporary visas enrolling for the first time in American graduate schools rose by 3.3 percent last year, compared with a 4.7-percent increase in first-time enrollments of U.S. citizens in such programs, according to the council's report, based on an annual survey of colleges and universities. The numbers mark the first time since 2004 that enrollments of domestic students rose faster than enrollments of international students at such institutions.
In both 2007 and 2006, U.S. graduate schools' enrollments of international students rose by 10 percent, while enrollments of domestic students rose by 3 percent in 2007 and actually declined, by 1 percent, in 2006, according to Nathan E. Bell, who wrote the report as the council's director of research and policy analysis.
In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Bell said the slowdown in the growth of international enrollments probably was caused in part by foreign students' concern about being able to afford college abroad, considering that the world economy was just beginning to go into a tailspin as the 2008 academic year began. Increased competition for students from higher-education institutions in other nations also appears to have made a dent in foreign demand for seats in American graduate schools' entering classes, he said.
"Other countries are ramping up their own capacity for graduate education," Mr. Bell said. Not only are universities in other industrialized nations more aggressively competing for international graduate students, but, in many cases, institutions in developing countries are offering new graduate programs, enabling students in those nations and surrounding ones to obtain a graduate education closer to home.
The rise in demand for graduate education among American students, Mr. Bell said, was probably a result of many recognizing that the economy was souring and concluding that they would be better off in graduate school than out looking for a job. "When they come out, it hopefully will be a better job market, and they will have this extra credential in their pockets," Mr. Bell said.
Much the growth in domestic demand for graduate education was driven by minority students. The number of Hispanic students enrolling for the first time in graduate schools rose by 10.6 percent from 2007 to 2008, while first-time enrollments for Native American students rose by 8.8 percent, for Asian and Pacific Islanders by 6.7 percent, and for black students by 6.5 percent. First-time enrollments of white students rose by just 3.5 percent. Because black, Hispanic, and Native American enrollments in graduate schools were disproportionately low to begin with, the latest increases in their numbers mainly represent continued progress in closing gaps in access to graduate programs.
"We have a long way to go, but we have seen steady, strong growth among minority groups," Mr. Bell said.
Although the enrollments of women in graduate education rose faster than enrollments of men over both the five-year and 10-year periods leading up to 2008, both sexes experienced the same rate of growth from 2007 to 2008.
In terms of doctoral-degree attainment, women continued to outpace men in their progress. The number of doctorates awarded to women rose by 5.7 percent in 2008, compared with a 3.5-percent increase for men. From 1998 to 2008, the average annual rate of growth in the number of doctorates awarded women was more than double the rate of growth in the number of doctorates awarded men—3.9 percent versus 1.4 percent.
As of 2008, women accounted for 59 percent of all students enrolling in graduate schools for the first time. They accounted for about 60 percent of all master's degrees and about 49 percent of all doctoral degrees awarded in the 2007-8 academic year, although they remained substantially underrepresented among advanced-degree recipients in some fields, such as engineering and the physical sciences.
In analyzing first-time graduate-school enrollments by field, the council noted an unusually big surge, of 11 percent, in the number of domestic students entering graduate programs in engineering.
Just three fields—education, business, and the health sciences—accounted for nearly half of all students enrolling in graduate programs for the first time. About 85 percent of all first-time graduate students were seeking either a master's degree or a certificate.