​International students earn more than half of advanced STEM degrees in US

When the graduating classes of 2015 walked to receive their diplomas during college or university graduations last June, more international students than ever before earned a degree from a U.S. institution. Now, a new report shows that international students are earning more than half of advanced STEM degrees.

According to a June 18 report from the Pew Research Center, foreign students earned only 11.6 percent of all doctorates from U.S. colleges and universities in the 2012-2013 academic year, but they also comprise 56.9 and 52.5 percent of all doctoral engineering and computer and information sciences, respectively.

At the bachelor’s degree level, international students are overrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees, but the numbers have declined, according to the Pew Research Center.

In 2012-2013, international students received 3.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees from U.S. colleges and universities, but earned 10.2 percent of all degrees in mathematics and statistics, 7.9 percent of engineering degrees and 6.7 percent of degrees in architecture and related fields, according to the Pew Research Center.

For the last several years, there has been a trend with international students from Asian countries with those same career interests, said Urmi Otiv, director of Global Services at the Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs.

“I really think that (the numbers) follow a national trend,” Otiv said. “(It’s) depending on the school, where it’s located and what (international) students look for in terms of the programs ... overall, it’s not shocking.”

The foreign student population increased 72 percent from 1999 to 2013, with a current approximation of 886,000 international students now enrolled in U.S. colleges or universities and completing practical, work-related training, according to the Institute of International Education.

Even though U.S. institutions recognize that most international students have many options for studying elsewhere, they realized in recent years that they are often the most attractive option, particularly for students from Asian countries, said Mohini Mukherjee, associate director for International Student Services.

“I don’t think that U.S. universities ... have really stepped up their recruitment efforts over the past five or six years, which is significantly different from how it was before,” Mukherjee said. “They kind of expect to see this kind of growth in numbers.”

This specific form of growth has been significantly on the side of professional programs for undergraduate students, Mukherjee said.

China is the single largest source of international students in the United States, with about 274,439 in total, according to the IIE. According to the Pew Research Center, the top field of study for these students is business and management, which constitutes 28 percent of the group’s academic majors.

India is the second-largest source of international students, with about 102,673 in total, according to the IIE. According to the Pew Research Center, this group’s top field of study is engineering, which is represented by a 38 percent figure.

Despite rising tuition costs, more and more international students study abroad in the United States because the difference between tuition costs for out-of-state domestic students and international students is “not that tremendous,” Otiv said.

Rutgers is a “very attractive” school for international students because the University has extremely high-caliber academics with departments that appeal to students considering studying in the United States, Otiv said.

The University also attracts international students that hope to attend the School of Communication and Information, School of Management and Labor Relations, as well as Rutgers Business School in particular, she said.

“While it’s true that Rutgers attracts a high number of international students (studying) the STEM fields, I think our other departments and other schools are equipped (well) to interest students that have other (career plans),” she said.

At the end of the day, Otiv said international students have a lot of options — such as universities in Australia or New Zealand — but they often study abroad in the United States because it is known for having world-class academic programs.

“American education is known to be truly one of the best in the world,” she said. “Everyone is looking to make sure that they’re able to participate in that and learn and grow from that.”

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