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National Data | Foreign Students Displace Americans, Especially Minorities, in U.S. Universities
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June 08, 2005, 05:00 AM
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What affirmative action giveth, immigration taketh away.

That could easily be the subtitle of a report highlighting the lack of diversity among graduate students.

The study, "Diversity and the Ph.D.," published by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in May 2005, finds that only 7 percent of Ph.D. recipients in 2003 were U.S.-born Blacks or Hispanics —compared to 35 percent who were foreign students.

Nearly five times as many citizens of other countries earned U.S. doctorates as did black and Hispanic Americans (14,300 vs. roughly 3,000).

This comes as Harvard and many other universities are agonizing over the lack of ethnic and gender diversity in their faculties and student bodies.

It also comes at a time when affirmative action in academia is being challenged—justifiably so.

Foreign graduate students are increasingly crowding out our own people: [Table 1]

  • In 1973 non-citizens received 17 percent of all Ph.D.s awarded in the U.S.
  • In 1988 they received 30 percent
  • In 2003 they received 35 percent

The foreign presence varies greatly among academic departments. [Table 2] Sixty-four percent of engineering PhDs. awarded in 2003 went to foreign students, as did nearly half (47 percent) of doctorates in the physical sciences.

But foreign students account for just 17 percent of education Ph.D.s.

Most foreign doctoral candidates are here on "temporary" student visas such as the J-1. Some become naturalized citizens and spend their careers working in the U.S. The others return home where they are often hired by U.S. firms outsourcing their operations abroad.

Either way the economic consequences are the same: lower income for native-born Americans—minorities and non-minorities alike.

It has been obvious for some time that the Great American Ph.D. Machine is out of control. Universities overproduce Ph.Ds, partly because they provide cheap teaching labor. Job markets are glutted.

But the downside of foreign dominance extends beyond economics. Ph.D.s go on to become professors, talking heads, policy makers. They lead the way in the world of thought. While teaching future generations how to think they inevitably impart their system of values. Do we want to relinquish this responsibility to people from other cultures?

 The Woodrow Wilson study articulates a moral imperative also:

"While a strong presence of international students constitutes one desirable form of academic diversity, it must not substitute for the form of diversity we are discussing here….Educating the world`s students while neglecting significant groups of the national population is a vast inequality at the highest academic level. This situation diminishes the value of American citizenship for too many of our citizens, and runs counter to the founding principles of the United States."

To which we say: Amen.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.