The Impact of International Students on U.S. Graduate Education

November 6, 2014
Kevin Shih, UC Davis

The first graduate student workshop of 2014-15 attracted 16 graduate students and faculty, including sociologists, demographers, geographers and economists from UC Davis, Unicamp (Brazil) and the University of Texas.

Shih assumes that, if there were a fixed supply of slots for graduate students, and the number of foreign graduate students rise, then local or domestic students could be displaced. However, if the number of slots for graduate students is not fixed, enrollment of foreign and domestic students can rise together as, e.g. tuition paid by international graduate students allows universities to create more student slots and the presence of foreigners makes more domestic students want to earn advanced degrees because they have more collaborative opportunities.

Shih developed a model to deal with endogenous bias by creating instrumental exogenous supply side variables and adding a linear time effect. Shih noted that foreign graduate students can either crowd out domestic graduate students or crowd more of them into graduate education, and concluded that the US evidence supports a crowd-in effect for foreign graduate students.

Participants agreed that Shih made an effective presentation, but many voiced concerns about the causal interactions. Specifically, they noted the lack of connections between the mechanisms involved in promoting U.S. graduate student success and the increases in foreign college-age population at countries of origin. Shih's analysis rests on part on "boom" and "bust" periods of foreign graduate enrollment, but many participants noted that the numbers were not suggestive of major enrollment changes.