Fewer grad students coming to U.S., UA

By Lisa Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The number of foreign graduate students attending the UA has been decreasing, following a national trend that could break America's reputation as the world's leader in higher education.

A 2004 survey conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools shows the number of foreign graduate students attending American institutions has decreased by 6 percent in the last year.

Maria Velez, associate dean of the graduate college, said although she does not have exact figures for this year, the UA's numbers are following a similar trend, falling 6 to 10 percent during the last three years.

"This affects us seriously," Velez said. "We could lose a source of outstanding graduate students, the best their countries have to offer."

Velez said tightened security in the United States and increased educational competition worldwide could be significant factors deterring international students from studying here.

Richard Kroc, vice president of enrollment research and operations, said if the numbers continue to drop, departments that heavily rely on foreign graduate research students, such as engineering, business and science, could suffer.

"It could really affect us," said Gail Burd, associate dean of the College of Science. "The number of students nationwide (in the College of Science) is not enough to pick up the slack of international students no longer studying in the U.S."

According to the 2001-2002 UA Factbook online, the Eller College of Business had 323 foreign graduate students, engineering had 323 and science had 162 international graduate students.

Two years later, the Factbook shows the number of foreign graduate students in engineering dropped to 291 and the number in the College of Science dropped to 143. The number of business students dropped from 407 students in 2002, to 344 in 2003.

The university is losing top students to other countries for a number of reasons, said Alexis Hernandez, associate dean of students. Hernandez said the numbers may be down because competition for students has increased with other countries, where obtaining a visa is not as difficult.

Hernandez said the state of global affairs after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks resulted in more strict governmental policy regarding immigration, which could play a major part in discouraging international students from studying in the United States.

"We had 3,000 international students before 9/11, and growing," Hernandez said. "We've started seeing that number decrease."

The number of UA foreign graduate students in fall 2002 was 1,770. The following year, the number dropped to 1,727, Velez said.

The male to female ratio of graduate students has also become disproportionate, Hernandez said, with a lower number of males attending now than in the past.

"We have to stop this trend," Hernandez said.

One of the most important resources to use for establishing contacts with other parts of the world is faculty, Hernandez said.

In addition to helping review applications, Hernandez said both international and national faculty members are vital for networking around the world, via any communication method such as Internet or telephone.

Velez said the UA should be working more closely with the American Association of Universities to streamline the visa application process, or create more feasible ways for foreign students to be guided through the process.

The UA could also continue to reach out to enroll students from Mexico and Latin America to increase numbers, Velez said. She said she believes there is an outstanding resource of students in those countries who share similar environmental and social concerns as those in Tucson living on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition to recruiting international students, Hernandez said the low number of UA students studying overseas also needs to improve. He said it is equally important for UA students to study abroad, where they can receive a unique cultural experience and benefit academically.

Hernandez said sending a larger number of Americans to study abroad could help reduce international tension. When students combine their cultural differences and learn how to negotiate and work together, they give their universities a stronger sense of diversity that is essential in the business world, he said.

"You want people who think differently and have different perspectives," Hernandez said. "They offer new ideas. That's important, because we deal in ideas, and ideas have no borders."