New York University top destination for foreign students, but overall decline in US campuses

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NEW YORK – New York University (NYU) continued its pole position for international students on F-1 visa, including from India, with the next four favored campuses located in California, according to 2017 Open Doors data released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in collaboration with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

In all, 17,326 students from all over the world chose NYU to pursue education in 2016-17. USC in California with 14,327 followed with the next most number of foreign student enrollment.

According to the Open Doors data, a majority of the Indian students in the US are in graduate courses (104,899), followed by 57,132 pursing Optional Practical Training (OPT); while 21,977 were in undergraduate programs; 2,259 are in non-degree programs.

The Los Angeles Times reported California remained the most popular destination as a state for foreign students, but new enrollment declined by 2.8% in 2016-17. The state’s share of first-time foreign students could decline further since the 10-campus University of California system limited its international and out-of-state students for the first time and raised tuition by 2.5% this year.

California, New York and Texas, in that order, are the top three destinations for Indian students.

The data revealed, however, that while the number of students from India studying in the United States went up overall by12.3% in 2016-17, it was in fact, a three-year low, when compared to the influx from the past two cycles. This is understandable given the fact that in 2016-17, 62,537 students from India got the F-1 visa, down from 74,831 students the previous year, a 16.43% decline.

In all, there were a total of 186,267 Indians studying in the US universities in 2016-17, down from the growth of 24.9% in 2015-16, and the top growth of 29.4% registered in 2014-15. However, the number of H-1B visas secured by Indian nationals grew by 5.62% in 2016-17 to 126,692.

Interestingly, Indian students accounted for 17.3% of the total foreign students in the US in 2016-17, only next to China (with 350,755 students), contributing $6.54 billion to the US economy.

The news website Swarajya noted that in terms of Indian Rupees, this sum of around Rs. 42,000 crores spent by Indians to pursue education in the US is vastly more than the Rs 7,000 crore allocated by the Government of India in this year’s budget (2017-18) for all Indian Institutes of Technology.

The New York Times reported that the number of newly arriving international students declined an average 7 percent in fall 2017, with 45 percent of campuses reporting drops in new international enrollment.

“It’s a mix of factors,” said Rajika Bhandari, head of research for the institute, which collects data on international students in cooperation with the State Department. “Concerns around the travel ban had a lot to do with concerns around personal safety based on a few incidents involving international students, and a generalized concern about whether they’re safe.”

Another reason for the decline is increasing competition from countries like Canada, Britain and Australia, said Allan E. Goodman, president of the institute.

The figures released Monday also included final numbers for 2016-2017, which show robust international enrollment, with a record 1.08 million international students in the United States, an increase of 85 percent from a decade earlier.

Much of the record was driven by 175,000 students who have remained in the United States after completing their degrees, in internship-type programs known as OPT.

Godard said fewer students came from India partly because of a currency crisis in the country, but also because of concerns about the Trump administration’s travel ban affecting Muslim countries. India was not on that list, but Godard said many of the university’s Indian students were from Muslim areas of the country and were concerned about the ban.

“Although India wasn’t listed as one of the countries, certainly feeling welcome and safe and all those things is important,” he said. “It would be naïve to say that wasn’t a contributing factor.”

Prospective students from India — interviewed shortly after last year’s presidential election — have expressed fears about the racial climate in the United States, concerns that might have been heightened after the shooting death in February of an Indian engineer in a suburban Kansas City bar, reported the Times.

Adding to US campus woes is the fact that the number of American students studying abroad increased by 4% to 325,339, in 2015-16. The top destinations were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Germany, noted the Los Angeles Times.

The data makes it amply clear that without foreign students, US campuses, especially graduate departments, would be in dire financial straits with many smaller colleges and universities forced to close down shop.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published a story on the scenario at the New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.

At the undergraduate level, 80 percent are United States residents. At the graduate level, the number is reversed: about 80 percent hail from India, China, Korea, Turkey and other foreign countries.

The Tandon School — a consolidation of N.Y.U.’s science, technology, engineering and math programs on its Brooklyn campus — is an extreme example of how scarce Americans are in graduate programs in STEM. Overall, these programs have the highest percentage of international students of any broad academic field. In the fall of 2015, about 55 percent of all graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences and engineering were from abroad, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board.

In arts and humanities, the figure was about 16 percent; in business, a little more than 18 percent.

The Times noted the dearth of Americans is even more pronounced in hot STEM fields like computer science, which serve as talent pipelines for the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft: About 64 percent of doctoral candidates and almost 68 percent in master’s programs last year were international students, according to an annual survey of American and Canadian universities by the Computing Research Association. In comparison, only about 9 percent of undergraduates in computer science were international students.

Many factors contribute to the gap, but a major one is the booming job market in technology. For the most part, Americans don’t see the need for an advanced degree when there are so many professional opportunities waiting for them. For some, the price is just too high when they have so much student debt already.

Compare this to 1994, when only about 40 percent of students who were enrolled in computer science Ph.D. programs were from outside the country, according to the Computing Research Association survey.

The Tandon School recently started “A Bridge to N.Y.U. Tandon,” aimed at preparing students with non-STEM backgrounds like liberal arts for master’s programs. Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, the dean, believes this could attract Americans who have not yet found decent jobs.

And he would like to see more of them enrolled in the graduate programs. “I feel that’s an imbalance,” he said, “that absolutely needs to be corrected.”

US campuses may be further hit if proposed tax reform by Republicans come down hard on students. Many international students, who are able to afford an education because of stipends and scholarships, may find the going tough post-tax reforms.

The Washington Post published a personal narrative by a graduate student David Walsh, who’s enrolled in the history department at Princeton University. According to his math, his own tax bill could go up by nearly $10,000 next year, at the minimum.

According to Walsh, who gets an annual stipend of about $32,000 as he works towards his dissertation, and was paid about $2,600 in taxes the past, would be slammed by huge extra taxes if the GOP’s plan goes through, and nearly 150,000 other graduate students in the United States, including him, could pay more than $11,000 in taxes.

“Currently, Section 117 of the U.S. tax code exempts “qualified tuition reduction” from colleges and universities from being counted toward calculations of gross income for tax purposes. Many, though not all, PhD students in the United States have tuition waived by their universities in exchange for teaching or research activities,” he wrote. “The GOP’s proposed bill would eliminate Section 117 and subject tuition support to taxation. This would imperil graduate education in the United States.”

He added: “What this means, in effect, is that graduate students would see their tuition support added on top of their stipends when their gross income is calculated by the Internal Revenue Service. For myself, this would mean adding the university tuition — about $49,500 — on top of my stipend. In effect, I would be taxed for about $81,000 in gross income, when my actual pay is less than half that.”

Walsh explained: “That would mean — even with the proposed increase to the standard deduction and the new tax bracket structure — that my tax bill quadruples to $11,400. This is by no means an unreasonable federal tax bill for someone making $81,000 a year — in fact, it’s a nominal tax rate of only 14 percent. But, because my real income is roughly $32,000, my effective federal tax rate under the new plan would be about 35 percent.”

Will this really happen? Only time will tell.

 (Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)