Amid the uncertainty over U.S. immigration policy, one fact is sending a chill through U.S. higher education: Some U.S. graduate programs in engineering, Science has learned, are seeing a sharp drop this year in the number of applications from international students.
University administrators worry that the declines, as much as 30% from 2016 levels in some programs, reflect heightened fears among foreign-born students that the United States is tightening its borders. A continued downturn, officials say, could threaten U.S. global leadership in science and engineering by shrinking the pool of talent available to carry out academic research. It could also hinder innovation in industry, given that most foreign-born engineering students take jobs with U.S. companies after graduation.
“It’s a precipitous drop,” says Philippe Fauchet, dean of engineering at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, of the 18% decline his department has seen in international graduate applications as last month’s deadlines passed. “Your first thought is, ‘Is it just us?’” adds Tim Anderson, engineering dean at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where international applications for the electrical and computer engineering departments fell 30% this year. But after speaking with other deans, Anderson believes “it’s a pattern.”
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