Through an influx of income for rising middle class families in China, coupled with a desire to gain an edge in the Chinese job market, many Chinese students are opting to further their education thousands of miles away from home in the United States.
For Zu Chen, who spent his high school years waking up at 6:30 a.m. and finishing classes at 10:30 p.m. in Henan, China, the switch to the United States was a welcome change.
“I attended Missouri State University’s China campus for international business administration,” said Chen, a senior agricultural business major at MSU. “After the general classes, I transferred to the MSU Springfield campus.”
Chen’s family in China is part of the country’s growing middle class whose growth has allowed for more Chinese students to study abroad in recent years.
Chinese people are getting richer, said Chen, and with more disposable money, some are putting the extra cash towards studying abroad in America where they believe the experience can help their careers.
Chen was one of 157,558 Chinese college students studying in the United States for the 2010-2011 academic year. The number of Chinese students studying in the United States has continued to grow since 9/11 and the nation has more students studying in America than any other country, according to the Institute of International Education.
“The growing middle class in China means that parents have the money to send their students to the best universities anywhere in the world, and China’s one-child policy means not just parents but four grandparents can help students pay for college,” said Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president of IIE.
“Students from China value U.S. colleges and universities for their high quality and for the style of education which stresses interdisciplinary approaches, student participation and critical thinking,” she said. “Employers value U.S. degrees, and parents have the means to afford them.”
Peng Zhang, a student in the master of business administration program at MSU, said he chose to attend an American university for his graduate degree to have an advantage in the Chinese job market.
“With China’s huge population, it’s very competitive when looking for a job,” he said. “Many people come to America to work on their language skills and to have an advantage when they go back to China for a job.”
The University of Southern California has had the highest number of international students of any United States college or university for the last decade, said Megan Wang, associate director of undergraduate admissions at USC.
During the 2010-2011 academic year USC had 8,615 international students with 1,951 students from China, Wang said.
“With a growing population of middle class and with people having more disposable income, education — which has always been a priority with Chinese as well as many Asian parents — takes an even bigger priority in the minds of these parents now that they have more disposable income at hand,” Wang said.
The Chinese have always been name brand conscious, purchasing high-quality items like Louis Vuitton bags — only now, studying abroad has become the new luxury good in China, Wang said.
“Education abroad is becoming a luxury good for these new upper middle class that have disposable income,” said Wang. “They’re very much in a purchase mode.”
Blumenthal said IIE expects the number of Chinese students studying in America to grow as academic exchanges increase between the two nations.
“We would expect that students from China will continue to come to the United States to study,” she said. “We have also seen more U.S. students going to China to study.”
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