For years, soaring numbers of Chinese graduate students in the United States have been a boon for American universities and local economies.
But it looks like the influx could be slowing.
Admission offers from US graduate schools to Chinese nationals, who make up one-third of all international master's and doctoral degree students in the US, flattened this year after nearly a decade of rapid growth, according to the Council of Graduate Schools, a Washington charity.
As recently as 2012, admission offers to prospective Chinese students shot up by 20 percent.
At the same time, applications from prospective Chinese graduate students are also levelling off, dropping 1 per cent this year, the non-profit group said.
The council does not track information on Chinese students seeking bachelor's degrees in the US, and experts and officials at universities said there were no hard data to suggest that the number of Chinese undergraduates at American schools had slowed from the double-digit annual increases in the last decade.
But if the Council of Graduate Schools' admissions data prove to be on the mark, as they have in the past, American universities could see a drop in overall foreign graduate students in the not-too-distant future because the Chinese have been driving the growth in graduate enrolment.
That could financially pinch some schools that have come to rely more on Chinese and other international students to fill their graduate programmes.
Experts said one factor behind the apparent shift from China was the same force that had hurt prices of steel and other raw materials: slower growth in the world's second-largest economy in the last two years.
"It's not realistic to expect the Chinese numbers to rise as fast as previously," said Dali Yang, of the University of Chicago Centre in Beijing. "As growing numbers of Chinese students study abroad, the allure may have also been somewhat diminished.