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Study: International Students Outpace Americans in STEM Degrees

by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang /
Rider University students in their caps and gowns are silhouetted as they line up for graduation ceremonies Friday, May 12, 2006, in Lawrenceville, N.J..MEL EVANS / ASSOCIATED PRESS

A new analysis by Pew Research Center looks at the growing presence of international students attending American colleges and universities, and their concentrated areas of study - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM fields) and business - as universities continue to look abroad for tuition and talent.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, international students earned 11.6 percent of all American doctoral degrees conferred during the 2012-2013 academic year. However, at the department level, a different picture emerges, with international students earning 57 percent of doctoral degrees in engineering; 53 percent of doctoral degrees in computer and information sciences; and 50 percent of doctorates in mathematics and statistics.

Related: For Influx of Foreign Students, A Guide to Understanding America

At the undergraduate level, international students during that same time period received 3.5 percent of all bachelor’s degrees. Again, the departmental numbers reveal a different picture. International students received 10 percent of bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics, 9 percent of bachelor’s degrees in mechanic and repair technologies, and 8 percent of bachelor’s engineering degrees.

Looking at enrollment, according Institute of International Education data, more than 886,000 international students were enrolled in American colleges and universities during the 2013-2014 school year. This figure is up 72 percent from 1999, with nearly all of the growth coming from Asian countries.

China sends the most international students, with 274,439 in 2013-2014, or 31 percent. Of these, 28 percent were studying business and management and 20 percent were studying engineering. India sends the second most students, or 102,673. 38 percent of Indian students were studying engineering and 26 percent were studying math and computer science. Third is South Korea with 68,047 students, 17 percent studying business and management, 13 percent studying engineering, and 13 percent studying fine and applied arts.

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