Influx of Chinese students is big business for America

Updated: 2013-03-12 11:20

By Liu Baijia (China Daily)

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Influx of Chinese students is big business for America

While the United States has been adding manufacturing jobs in some areas lately, it is enjoying a boom in a "product" in high demand globally: university graduates. Much of that interest comes from China, with which the US has a large trade deficit overall.

That's why representatives of some 90 US colleges, universities and high schools turned out for an education forum in Beijing over the weekend. The Americans accounted for about a quarter of the exhibitors at the China International Education Exhibition Tours fair on Saturday and Sunday. The delegation also drew the most attention from potential students and their parents.

Statistics from the weekend weren't immediately available, but 40,000 people visited the event in 2012. (The fair began in 1999.)

Among the top priorities for China's increasing ranks of middle class, rich and super-rich families is high-quality higher education. US institutions are many parents' top choice, due to their reputation for diversity, including international students, and emphasis on critical thinking and innovation.

China's Ministry of Education said on Feb 28 that about 400,000 Chinese students studied abroad last year, nearly half of them in the US.

Foreign students have become an important source of revenue for many US colleges and universities. In 2011, they contributed $22.7 billion to the US economy, according to the Commerce Department, citing tuition, books and fees as well as related expenses like transportation and health insurance.

The Commerce data weren't broken down by nationality, but students from China accounted for a quarter of all foreign students enrolled in US higher-education institutions in 2011-12, and their number - 194,029 - was up 23 percent from the previous academic year.

Swelling enrollment of foreign students, along with rising tuition and other costs, have enabled many US colleges and universities to maintain operations.

The Institute of International Education said in its most recent Open Doors survey, co-published annually with the US State Department, that almost two out of three foreign students pay education-related expenses in the US mainly on their own or from their families.

Emilia Duan, a representative of Pace University in New York who was among exhibitors at the Beijing education fair, said her institution has fewer than 100 students from China currently and plans to admit 200 this fall.

She said business and finance education - favorite majors of Chinese applicants - make Pace a good fit, as do its campuses in and near Manhattan and extensive alumni network.

A new facet of the trend of Chinese students going abroad is declining age. Many are choosing to start their international education from high school. This generally means much more spending, even including buying property or cars in the US, so that parents can help their children acclimate to life in their temporary home.

According to the US Department of Homeland Security, only 65 Chinese students attended US high schools during the 2005-06 academic year; five years later, the number was 6,725.

Parents of Chinese children at some private boarding schools in California pay tuition of $10,000 to $30,000 a year and at least $2,000 a month in room and board.

At the weekend education fair, one father who attended with his 12-year-old daughter told Beijing Daily that he bought a house in Houston and that his wife and the girl will live there if she is admitted to a local school.

The growing presence of Chinese on US campuses hasn't escaped criticism. Some educators and administrators say having too many students from any single country impairs diversity, while others have noted that some incoming students from China lack English-language proficiency. Some institutions have expressed concern about fraud in the application process, including presentation of forged documents.

In the years, if not decades, to come, demand from China for international education will likely remain strong, providing a business opportunity for the likes of the US, Britain, Australia and Singapore.

The continuous flow of Chinese students will bring, along with tuition money, changes and challenges for China and the study-abroad countries. The question is whether both are ready to make the outcome one that's mutually beneficial.

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