The Three-Year Indian Degree Conundrum

 

IEM SPOTLIGHT NEWSLETTER, VOL. 14, Summer ISSUE - August 2017

By: Ujjaini Sahasrabudhe, University of Southern California, and Aleksander Morawski, Foreign Credits

In the Institute of International Education’s 2016 Open Doors report, it states that there were 165,918 Indian students enrolled in U.S. institutions for the 2015/2016 academic year and more than 60 percent of them were seeking graduate degrees. The report further states that these numbers have grown significantly in the last three years. Given the high demand for a U.S. graduate education among Indian students, institutional policies related to three-year Indian degrees is an important matter. However, not surprisingly, U.S. institutions are all over the map when it comes to their policies regarding such degrees. Enrollment management strategies—specifically those related to international student enrollment targets, recruitment strategies, institutional selectivity, etc.,—all play an important role in determining a university’s stance on three-year degrees from India.

Institutional Requirements and Policies

Institutions across the United States differ in what they require from India students in order to be considered for graduate admission. Universities such as University of Hawaii at Manoa and University of California-Los Angeles, for example, explicitly indicate on their websites that they do not accept three-year Indian degrees. Stanford University requires three-year degree holders to also complete a two-year master’s degree. University of Southern California and University of Colorado Boulder will accept students who have completed the first year of their master’s degree, following a three-year bachelor of arts, science, or commerce. On the other hand, University of Arizona and University of Illinois consider students who earn postgraduate diplomas following their bachelor degrees to be eligible as well.

There is little to no consensus on how Indian three-year degrees are treated even within larger U.S. university systems. The California State University system, the largest of them all, is composed of 23 campuses that share a common application system. However, while San Diego State University states that Indian students with three-year degrees are eligible for admission, California State University-Fullerton and San Francisco State University indicate that they are not. What is important to remember here is that even for schools that advertise a no-acceptance policy on their websites, there may be internal policies and procedures in place that allow them to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, typically in the form of clearance to admit from senior management within the university or within a specific program.

Credential Evaluation Agencies

There are some U.S. institutions that outsource their credential evaluation process, and the determination to accept or not accept three-year degrees may be based on the reports the institutions receive from the credential evaluation agencies. What makes this tricky is that equivalency policies for three-year Indian degrees are not the same across all credential evaluation agencies. This disparity among agencies’ policies is then reflected in what universities advertise on their websites. For example, degree holders who are seeking admission to Seattle University, which relies on a credential evaluation report from Educational Credential Evaluators, may not receive a bachelor’s degree equivalency for their three-year Indian degrees, as per the agency’s policies. Students seeking admission to Illinois University of Technology or University of Buffalo, schools that use World Education Services, will receive bachelor’s degree equivalencies under certain circumstances, as per that agency’s policies. Thus, the equivalency issue is further complicated by the varied policies adopted by different credential evaluation agencies.

Program-Specific Policies

Within U.S. institutions, credential equivalency policies may also be determined by individual departments, with some programs being affected more than others. Indian students who seek U.S. professional degrees in fields such as engineering, pharmacy, law, occupational therapy, etc., are more likely to face hurdles if they lack a four-year degree from India. The New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering, for example, explicitly states that in order to be eligible for admission to its master’s and doctorate engineering programs, students must have completed at least four years of undergraduate studies. On the other hand, Indian students may find it easier to apply to areas of studies such as business, public policy, and communications, areas that are more likely to accept three-year nonprofessional degree holders. NYU’s business school, NYU Stern School of Business, advertises that three-year degrees from India are sufficient to apply to its MBA program. In fact, it is not unusual for MBA programs, in general, to be an exception to the rule and accept three-year degree holders from India (and other countries) to their programs. The MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business is another such example. This may be related to the fact that such programs rely more heavily on other factors such as work experience to make admission decisions and typically admit students who have been in the workforce for several years. Thus, even at the department and program level, there are discrepancies in how Indian three-year degrees are handled.

Bridge Programs

Some schools offer bridge programs that provide pathways to graduate degrees to prospective international students who would not be otherwise eligible for the programs based on their three-year degrees. These bridge programs enable students to matriculate into graduate programs within specific areas of study at their universities. For example, both Fairleigh Dickinson and Pace University offer one-year bridge programs that allow successful candidates to continue into graduate programs within the engineering, computer science, or business schools at their universities. For New York Institute of Technology’s MBA program, all three-year degree holders from India are eligible for admission, but it is the institution that determines whether students can begin the program directly or if they must complete the bridge program before continuing on to the MBA program. But a pathway program does not always mean that three-year degrees will be acceptable. At Oregon State University, Indian students must possess four-year degrees whether or not they are seeking admission to the MBA program directly or through the INTO Pathway program. These and other schools across the United States are cognizant of three-year degrees and some are implementing initiatives that address both the students’ needs and the institutions’ strategic goals.

Setting Students’ Expectations

Given the level of diversity in the admissions policies related to the three-year degrees from India, it is understandable that navigating the graduate admissions process is challenging for Indian students. Conversely, expecting uniformity in the process across all universities sets an unreasonable expectation and undermines institutional autonomy, one of the hallmarks of the U.S. educational system. The policies set forth for graduate admissions involve input from many stakeholders across the campus, ranging from the admissions office to registrars and department faculty, which can add to the complexity. Furthermore, the act of assessing a student’s competence to succeed in a particular graduate program requires more than just the benchmark of completing four (or more) years of full-time undergraduate study. Therefore, since uniformity cannot be expected, admissions policies must be carefully considered and articulated and published to convey these requirements to prospective students.


References

Institute of International Education. 2016. Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. http://www.iie.org/opendoors.


THIS PUBLICATION HAS BEEN DEVELOPED BY NAFSA MEMBERS FOR USE BY THEIR COLLEAGUES. NO PART OF THIS NEWSLETTER MAY BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM NAFSA: ASSOCIATION OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATORS. THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN IEM SPOTLIGHT SOLELY REFLECT THOSE OF THE AUTHORS AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THOSE OF NAFSA: ASSOCIATION OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATORS. IEM SPOTLIGHT AND NAFSA NEITHER ENDORSE NOR ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACCURACY OF CONTENT AND/OR OPINIONS EXPRESSED.