U.S. Schools See Continual Drop In International Applicants & Students

International student enrollment continued to drop at U.S. schools in 2018, a trend that began to be felt in 2017. Daily Pennsylvanian photo

Data don’t lie. The drop-off in international student enrollment in U.S. business schools is officially a three-year trend, according to a Poets&Quants analysis of the latest numbers from U.S. News & World Report. Across the board — but especially in the lower tier of top-50 schools — foreign student numbers continue to dive in full-time MBA programs, with 36 schools seeing declines between 2016 and 2018, and 32 from 2017 to 2018. Even the elite schools — with the exception of Harvard Business School, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford Graduate School of Business — are feeling the pinch: Seven of the top 10 schools, as ranked by P&Q, saw declines in the last three years, at an average of 6.5%.

All schools are feeling the pinch — but some schools and some regions are feeling it harder than others. Southern U.S. schools, in particular, are experiencing huge enrollment declines, in many cases greater than 20%. The four worst declines in the top 50 all are in the South, led by Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, which fell from 23.2% foreign student enrollment in 2016 to just 15.1% last year, a decline of nearly 35%; and the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, which saw international enrollment fall from 34.3% to 22.5% in that span, a loss of more than 34%.

In a separate analysis, P&Q compiled salary data for international graduates and their U.S. counterparts and found that most top 50 schools saw increases in base salary over the past three years for both international (30 schools) and U.S. grads (38). Foreign MBAs graduating from a top 50 school made less than their U.S. counterparts, an average of $108,595 to $113,828, respectively; but internationals actually saw greater salary increases on average from 2016 to 2018: $7,808 compared to $5,774. See Page 4 for details.


“There’s no doubt that immigration policy is having a negative impact on U.S. business schools,” William Boulding, dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School and the chair of the Graduate Management Admission Council, told Poets&Quants last year. “You’ve seen growth in business schools outside the U.S., but the U.S. is losing the pipeline of talent. If we are going to maintain our reputation for having the best business schools in the world, we have to be able to attract the best and brightest in the world. Student mobility has become a big issue (see Fuqua Dean: Immigration Policy Hurting U.S. Business Schools).”

Schools are dealing with the decline in a number of ways. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business has introduced a new STEM-designated management science specialization in Darden’s MBA Program that would allow international students to apply for two extra years of federal Optional Practical Training (OPT) to work in the U.S. Fuqua also has put in its MBA program a certificate in management science and technology management that opens the door to an extended work visa. And the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business has adopted changes in its MBA program that allows students in every one of its ten specializations, including brand management and strategy, to qualify for the extra OPT allowance.

An analysis of a dozen Southern U.S. schools found that the decline in international enrollment is steeper in the region than in the country as a whole, with a 20.1% decline compared to 14.2% across the P&Q top 50. Boulding’s school, Duke Fuqua, has not escaped the attrition, losing 6.6 points in the three years since 2016, a greater than 17% decline to 31.7%. Other notables: Texas A&M’s Mays Business School (down 33.5% to 22% enrollment), Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business (down 29.3% to 19.8%), and SMU’s Cox School of Business, which saw a 28.1% drop to just 15.1% international enrollment.

“A key to economic prosperity in this country is immigration,” Boulding told P&Q last August. “Many of our Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. Many of the most promising startups in Silicon Valley have been created by immigrants. We are now entering a period of time when everyone is talking about massive shifts in the world of work due to new technology.

“We are going to see a new generation of entrepreneurs create the jobs of the future. If that is not happening here, we risk becoming the economic dinosaur of the world. We’re ready to impact that transformation, but we have to have the talent to do it. Otherwise, we’re looking at a long-term slide toward irrelevance.”


In 2016, two schools had more than 50% internationals enrolled in their MBA programs. The next year there were none. In 2018, one school, Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, eclipsed the 50% threshold, enrolling 54.8% foreign students (nearly half of whom are from India), up from 44.5% in 2017 and an increase of 36.7% since 2016. But there’s a catch. During that span Purdue’s relatively small MBA grew overall, so the total number of actual foreign MBA students stayed roughly the same, around 50.

After Purdue, five other schools managed greater than 40% international enrollment, three of them in California: UC-Davis (44%), UC-Irvine Merage (43.9%), Rochester Simon (43.1%), Columbia Business School (42%), and Stanford Graduate School of Business (42%).

In total, 36 schools saw three-year declines, averaging 14.2%, while 11 schools saw gains averaging 12.7%. to enough data was available for three other schools. In the top 10, seven schools saw declines averaging 6.5%; the other three were Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, where gains averaged 6.6%. Looking at actual numbers, in 2017 the P&Q top 50 had an estimated 7,846 international students; in 2018, that number shrank to 7,600, a decline of 3.1%.

By way of comparison, we put together salary numbers for a batch of schools outside the U.S. (see below). At the five European schools, base salary is much higher than at any U.S. counterpart.

See Pages 2 and 3 for international student enrollment percentages at the top 50 U.S. schools, and Pages 4 and 5 for salary comparisons of international and U.S. MBA grads from those schools.

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