As Applications From Foreign Students Dwindle, American Institutions Work Harder to Recruit International Students

By Diana Middleton

November 4, 2010

The Wall Street Journal

U.S. business schools, faced with a decline in applications from overseas, are stepping up international recruiting efforts to preserve what they say is an essential component of an institution’s credibility.

Improved schools abroad, tougher employment prospects in the U.S., and the expense of attending an American school have led to fewer foreign applications at many programs, officials at several business schools say.

Overall, international enrollment at U.S. business schools dropped to 24.8% in the 2009-10 school year, down from 26.5% two years prior, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, an accrediting body.

Harder hit are schools that don’t have the global demand of institutions such as Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where international enrollments have generally remained steady or increased.

At the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, international enrollment is just 16% for the class of 2012, its lowest in more than a decade.

U.S. schools seek high international enrollment because it helps boost the prestige and global credibility of their programs. An international student body helps recruiters portray the school as sophisticated and diverse, and it gives students the opportunity to cultivate overseas contacts.

Only 60% of international students’ Graduate Management Admission Test reports now go to U.S. schools, down from three-quarters a decade ago. One reason is increasing competition from Asian schools, such as China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, Nanyang Business School in Singapore and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The Foster School’s international applications have fallen since 2007, particularly from Korea and Japan, where companies have often sent employees overseas to full-time M.B.A. programs, says Dan Poston, assistant dean for master’s programs. Mr. Poston cited the global downturn, as well as the school’s shrunken endowment for scholarships, as reasons for the decline.

The international enrollment decline has potential to hit the business school’s finances. International students, like all out-of-state students, pay a higher tuition—$37,419 this year—than in-state students, who pay $25,101.

In an effort to bolster recruiting in Korea and Japan, the school is sending admissions officers on as many as six trips for its executive-education programs next year, up from two last year. It has also added recruiting events in three Indian cities: Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi.

It has budgeted more than $26,000 for the efforts next year, including additional trips to send career-services employees to interview promising applicants in person.

At Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, 35% of applicants for the class of 2012 came from outside the U.S. That’s down from 39% for the class of 2008.

John Roeder, Owen’s director of admissions, says it has become harder for international students to find a job in the U.S. after graduation, and that has deterred some of them from applying to U.S. schools.

Adeline Chong, a first-year M.B.A. student at CEIBS in Shanghai, says she considered New York University’s Stern School of Business, Columbia University Business School and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. But the bad job market in the U.S. convinced the Singapore native she would be better off elsewhere.

“When I began applying to business school, I had to consider the economic climate in the United States,” says Ms. Chong, 30 years old. “I wondered how fast I would be able to get a job.”

Ms. Chong says she wants to pursue a career in telecommunications mergers and acquisitions, and plans to stay in Asia for at least a few years after graduating.

Owen last year began sending U.S.-based international alumni back to their home countries to meet with potential applicants. So far, they have sent four alumni to countries including Russia, Peru and Germany; it has budgeted about $10,000 a year for the effort.

While there, the alumni conduct presentations for groups of potential applicants. The school has also selected eleven other alumni in countries including Japan, Korea and India to represent the school at recruiting fairs.

At the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, international candidates totaled 53% of its applications for the class of 2012 this year, down from 59% for the class of 2009.

Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions, says a strong international contingent matters not just to other international students, but also to Americans, who want overseas contacts. “American students are looking for international opportunities, and that is reflected by being at a school with classmates from different countries,” Ms. Koh says.

Ross is stepping up recruiting efforts in places it hasn’t normally focused on, including Turkey and countries in Africa.

When students do international internships, Ross has started asking them to represent the school at recruiting events as well. This spring, it organized eight such events, up from four last spring.

Ms. Koh credits those efforts with helping boost international applications to 53% for the class of 2012, from 46% a year earlier. But that’s still lower than a few years ago.

At Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, international applications fell to 27% for the class of 2012, from 38% for the class of 2011. Students from China, South Korea and Taiwan are increasingly opting for improved schools in their home countries, says Alison Merzel, director of M.B.A. admissions.

The school’s budget wouldn’t accommodate visits to more countries, she says. But it is trying to reach international recruits through an online career fair. In April, it participated in a virtual career fair to provide information, upload recruiting videos and communicate with candidates.

The fair isn’t only for international students, but since students around the world can access it easily, the school hopes it will draw international candidates.

“We’re always looking to create a class with a global perspective,” Ms. Merzel says. “Without international students, that’s a lot harder to get at.” is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.