Enrollment of graduate Chinese students declining at UI, nationally


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Big Ten universities are seeing a decrease in Chinese enrollment in graduate school, but officials aren’t concerned.

An annual report by the Council of Graduate Schools released April 8 said Chinese enrollment dropped 5 percent nationally, but University of Iowa officials and several other Big Ten officials don’t plan to take action.

John Keller, the dean of the UI Graduate College, said he wasn’t really worried about the slight short-term drop in enrollment.

“We tend to look at trends over a three-year period,” he said.

The 5 percent drop was the first decrease after seven years of double-digit increases. Despite the decline in the number of Chinese applications, overall international student enrollment increased 1 percent.

While Chinese enrollment dipped, the report said applications grew by 20 percent from India, the second-largest source of international students.

Downing Thomas, the UI dean of International Programs, said these fluctuations happen.

“Enrollments have gone up and down over the years, with cyclical changes in the economy, international circumstances, and other factors,” he said. “The UI continues to attract a strong group of international applicants.”

While some schools can opt to increase recruitment, the UI doesn’t have this option.

“The Graduate College is not involved in any specific effort to recruit international students,” Keller said. “We simply don’t have the resources to do so.”

A few Big Ten schools are facing the same decline.

Michigan State University’s international enrollment followed the trend, increasing 2 percent overall for international enrollment, but its Chinese enrollment fell 3 percent for the fall of 2013.

Karen Klomparens, the dean of Michigan State University’s Graduate School, echoed the sentiments of UI officials, saying the slight decrease doesn’t raise too much alarm.

“We still have a great mumber of Chinese applications, so a little bit of a decrease from year to year is OK,” she said. “If it was double digits year to year, we’d be a little concerned.”

Similarly, Wendy Crone, the associate dean at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate School, said while it was a surprise, it could be a “correction.” Recent years have brought a dramatic increase in Wisconsin’s enrollment, and this subtle decrease could be a return to normal.

But the university won’t act on this trend’s reversal — at least not for now.

“Although this is a percentage decline, we’re not expecting to take any action based on this one year of change in our enrollment from China,” she said.

The drop could be due to increasing opportunities in China.

“China is building its own high-capacity graduate schools,” Klomparens said. “Students applying to graduate programs are seeing many more opportunities at home as well as abroad.”

With increasing opportunities in China could mean problems for the United States.

“There are lots of countries investing in their graduate programs,” Klomparens said. “That will be competition — especially in the U.S.”

But even with some guessing, graduate-college officials will only sit back and watch the numbers play out.

“The cause of this is really difficult to speculate about … there are some data we’ll look at and keep watching,” Crone said.

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