On campus, US-Chinese interaction is surging

Updated: 2012-11-16 14:30

By Yu Wei in New York (China Daily)

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An influx of young Chinese, along with steadily rising enrollments from Saudi Arabia, has enlarged the international student body at US colleges and universities, according to a report issued this week.

One-quarter of the 764,321 international students who enrolled at US schools for the 2011-12 academic year were from China, a 23 percent jump from the previous year, according to the annual Open Doors report. It's published jointly by the New York-based Institute of International Education and the US State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

On campus, US-Chinese interaction is surging

Columbia University students enjoy face-painting and other activities during the China Day cultural fair on the school's New York campus in October. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Business management and engineering remain the two most popular disciplines for Chinese students in the US.

Overall, the number of foreign students on US campuses rose 5.7 percent last year, in line with a long-running upward trend. A big contributor was Saudi Arabia, which saw a 50 percent increase in the number of its citizens studying in the US (34,139).

But China held its spot, for the third year in a row, as the top source of international students on US campuses, at just over 194,000. The top five was rounded out by India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada, according to the Open Doors survey, which compiles data collected by US institutions themselves.

For Americans who studied abroad in 2010-11, China was the No 5 destination, the fifth consecutive year the country has held that ranking in the Open Doors survey. Chinese campuses hosted nearly 14,000 students from the US in 2010-11, the most recent academic year for which such data is available.

That's a tiny number compared with Chinese students in the US, but it reflects increased popularity of study-abroad programs on both sides of the Pacific.

"International students always enrich classrooms and communities through their cultures, traditions and diversity of backgrounds. It's critical to continue to open our campuses to them," said Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, who presented the report on Tuesday in Washington.

"International education creates strong, lasting relationships between the US and emerging leaders worldwide," she said. "Students return home with new perspectives and a global skill set that will allow them to build more prosperous, stable societies."

The Open Doors survey also found that, for the first time in 12 years, the number of international undergraduates outnumbered their postgraduate counterparts.

"This is primarily due to the large increase of Chinese undergraduates," said Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice-president of research and evaluation for the Institute of International Education.

This could usher in changes in the nature of foreign students' experience and influence in the US.

"Undergraduates not only stay longer, they have more impact on campus culture, both inside the classroom and out," said Allan Goodman, the institute's president.

At Michigan State University, growth in the number of foreign undergraduates, especially from China, has been dramatic. Like many other large American research universities, Michigan State has long had sizable enrollment of postgraduate students from abroad, after they earned their bachelor's degrees back home.

Michigan State ranked ninth in the US for the size of its international-student body in 2011-12, at about 3,600. But that total included 2,845 undergraduates, skyrocketing from just 43 seven years ago.

"The university has seen a particular influx of undergraduates from China in recent years," said Peter Briggs, director of the school's Office for International Students and Scholars.

"Having the opportunity for us to know those Chinese students and for them to know us is extraordinarily important," he said.

According to Open Doors, the University of South California led US schools in international enrollment for the 11th straight year, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, New York University, Purdue University in Indiana and Columbia University in New York.

In 2011-12, California schools hosted more than 100,000 students, the survey found. Other top states for international enrollment are New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois.

The yearly growth has made education one of the United States' leading exports. According to the Commerce Department, international students contributed nearly $23 billion to the US economy last year.

At Ohio State University, which enrolled 3,438 students from China this fall, in-state undergraduates are charged $10,037 for annual tuition, while nonresidents pay $26,445; for postgraduate students, in-state and nonresident tuition charges are $12,200 and $31,653, respectively, according to the school' s admissions office.

Mu Ge, a Beijing native who earned a master's degree at Michigan State and is now working toward another at New York University, said he has spent a huge amount of money to study in the US.

"Not only does the university benefit financially from Chinese students, but locals do, too. For example, when I was in Michigan, most Chinese students I knew had their own cars and rented an apartment off campus; the restaurants were always full of Chinese students," Mu said.

"I guess my contribution to the US economy was in spending on football games," he said with a laugh. Mu has fallen in love with the sport and was in the stands at most Spartans home games.

The Open Doors report also offers a snapshot of US students abroad. Some 274,000 Americans were enrolled at non-US colleges and universities in 2010-11, up 1.3 percent from the previous academic year. Although China again placed fifth in countries hosting US students, it was the first outside of Europe — a traditional education destination for Americans. Preceding China were Britain, Italy, Spain and France; the rest of the top 10 consisted of Australia, Germany, Costa Rica, Ireland and Argentina.

President Barack Obama's 100,000 Strong Initiative is meant to boost the number of US students who spend a semester or more in China.

About 26,000 Americans went to China to study in 2010-11, of whom nearly 9,000 were engaged in noncredit-bearing activities.

"Based on these numbers, the initiative is likely to meet its cumulative target of 100,000 by about 2014," said Bhandari of the Institute of International Education.

"The world is tilting toward China, and the more our young people know about the language, culture and history, the better they will be able to collaborate, cooperate and compete," said Tom Watkins, a former education superintendent for the state of Michigan.

There is no more important geopolitical relationship in the world than that of China and the US in the 21st century, Watkins said.

"All major global issues will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, DC. The more we understand each other the better off the world will be."