The two biggest groups to come to the United States seeking graduate business education have long been Indian and Chinese nationals. For many years, the latter outnumbered the former, but for about the last decade, through 2019, the number of Chinese students seeking MBAs or other business degrees in the U.S. has declined while the Indian population at U.S. business schools has steadily grown. This trend can be seen across all programs: In 2019, for the first time, Indian undergraduate students at U.S. schools outnumbered Chinese, a monumental shift noted in the biennial Open Doors report.
Then came 2020. The coronavirus pandemic and other factors set international graduate applications and enrollment at U.S. schools back across the board — but the Chinese student population was affected more, in part because of the concomitant impact of a destructive trade war.
With all this in mind, Poets&Quants examined some of the granular data released by U.S. News recently as part of its annual ranking of top MBA programs, specifically the percentages of foreign-born students enrolled at B-schools across all programs. We found strong evidence of a continuation of the trend: Indians dominating, with the average Indian student population among all non-U.S. resident students across all programs at 26 of the top U.S. B-schools at 27.9%, compared to a Chinese student population average of 16.9%. Seventeen of those schools had Indian populations of 20% or more among their nonresident popualtions, compared to just seven schools with Chinese populations of that level; five schools had 40% or more Indians, while only three schools reported that many Chinese.
USC MARSHALL REPORTS MOST CHINESE AMONG NONRESIDENT STUDENTS; MINNESOTA CARLSON MOST INDIANS
A big caveat to all this is that most of the elite schools at the top of the ranking did not report nationality breakdowns, including No. 1-ranked Stanford Graduate School of Business, Harvard Business School, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, and Columbia Business School. MIT Sloan School of Management and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania boycotted the ranking altogether. In some cases, gaps in the U.S. News data could be filled by school class profiles; for example the international MBA student percentage at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
The highest-ranked school to report detailed data on nationalities was UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, tied for seventh in the ranking, which reported 15% Indians and 6% Chinese in its nonresident student population; the only other top-10 schools to do so were No. 9 Yale School of Management, which reported 19% Chinese and 15% Indians, and No. 10 NYU Stern School of Business, which reported 28% Indians and 25.7% Chinese. (See the next page for a complete breakdown of the numbers.)
Most of the programs following Haas, Yale, and Stern in the ranking included the relevant data. The highest percentage of Indian students in a school’s nonresident population was at No. 28 University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, 64%; the lowest was at No. 31 Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business: 1%. The highest percentage of Chinese students in the nonresident population was at No. 16 USC Marshall, 63%; the lowest was at BYU Marriott, which had none, and at No. 22 University of Washington Foster School of Business: 3.2%. To give an idea of what all this actually looks like: At Minnesota Carlson, the total number of nonresident students is 67 across three MBA programs, so in raw numbers the school has 43 students from India. That means that out of an MBA population of 828, Carlson students from India comprise 5%.
The overall highest percentage of international MBA students could be found at No. 33 University of Rochester Simon Business School, which reported 38.8% internationals this year; the lowest was at No. 27 University of Florida Warrington College of Business, which reported 7.8%. Click here for more details about international MBA breakdowns at the top 50 B-schools.
ONLY 5 SCHOOLS HAVE MORE CHINESE THAN INDIAN NATIONALS
Some interesting wrinkles:
- Of the 26 schools examined by P&Q, only five had more Chinese than Indian students: Yale SOM (19% to 15%), Duke University Fuqua School of Business (31% to 17%), Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management (40.4% to 13.5%), USC Marshall (63% to 11%), and Arizona State University Carey School of Business (41% to 26%).
- Five schools reported other nationalities than Chinese as their second-place countries: the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, which had Brazilians at No. 2 with 12% and Chinese third with 10%; Indiana University Kelley School of Business, which had South Koreans 15%, Japanese 8%, and Taiwanese 8% — all higher than Chinese at 6%; Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management, which had Japanese 10% and Nigerians 8% before Chinese at 8%; Florida Warrington, which had Venezuelans at 11.4% ahead of Chinese at 8.6%; and BYU Marriott, which had Brazilians at 1.3% higher than both Indians (1%) and Chinese (none).
- Canada is notable for being a frequent No. 3 in enrolled nonresident populations, with its highest mark 12% at Yale SOM. Half the 26 schools list Canada as one of their top populations. South Korea is even more well-represented, with 16 schools listing percentages, led by 15% at Indiana Kelley; and Nigeria is listed by six schools, including 9% at Virginia Darden.
CHINESE CANDIDATES NOW PREFER UK TO US
The slide in international graduate applications and enrollment in U.S. MBA programs can be traced to about 2016, right around the rise of the highly xenophobic campaign of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Between 2018 and 2019, international applications to U.S. schools fell 14%. Covid-19 exacerbated the trend by making travel difficult and souring students on the prospect of paying high tuition for a U.S. degree that was essentially an online MBA. While there are signs of reversal in the coronavirus-inspired trepidation about U.S. study, largely thanks to vaccinations in the U.S. and a perceived imminent end of the pandemic, Chinese students no longer see the U.S. as their top study destination, according to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council. GMAC points to rising tension between the U.S. and China in recent years discouraging prospective Chinese students from coming to America for their advanced degrees, as well as the growth of high-quality business school programs in China and the Asia Pacific region.
GMAC found that the proportion of respondents reporting that they are extremely or very concerned about Covid-19 declined from 41% to 33% over the survey period from July to December 2020. Meanwhile, international candidates overall continue to look to the U.S. as one of their top three choices to study business abroad, with prospective students from India ranking the U.S. their top choice, ahead of their home country, and those from Canada and the United Kingdom also picking the U.S. as their first international destination. However, prospective candidates from Greater China identify the UK (27%) as their preferred study destination, followed by the U.S. (21%) and Singapore (12%).
What do Chinese and Indian students look for in a graduate business program? In a major report in 2016, GMAC painted a vivid picture of the Chinese and Indian candidate for graduate study: Compared to a global sample of candidates, Chinese degree seekers are largely Career Revitalizers — those seeking to reinvent themselves with a career pivot — and Status Seekers, motivated by a desire to be a role model, to make their family proud, and to stand out from others. “Programs seeking to attract more students from China,” GMAC CEO Sangeet Chowfla told P&Q in 2016, “may be particularly interested in assessing how they present their program offerings to seasoned professionals looking to advance their careers.” Other ways in which Chinese GME seekers differ compared with the global market of B-school candidates: more in China have an undergraduate degree in business or management and work in manufacturing; they are older on average, and they are more likely to have parents who did not complete a postsecondary degree.”
Meanwhile, Indian B-school candidates differ from their Chinese and global colleagues in several key respects: They are younger, and they are far less likely to have parents who did not earn a postsecondary degree. More have an undergraduate degree in engineering and work in computers/IT. Five years ago, about 36% applied to B-school before entering the workforce — exactly in line with the global average, which was far more than in China (19%). Most strikingly in comparison with China, just 1% of Indians look at a B-school degree as something that will revitalize their career, according to the 2016 GMAC report — while a significant 8% see an MBA degree through the lens of the Socioeconomic Climber, or someone who wants to earn more money, improve their socioeconomic status, and give their children a better future.
See the next page for a breakdown of Indian, Chinese, and other nationalities at the top U.S. schools that report the data.
AND DON’T MISS MEET INDIA’S TOP MBAS FROM THE CLASS OF 2020