Chinese Students Become Largest Overseas Contingent At U.S. Universities

Number Of International Students From China Rises 30% To Nearly 128,000, Surpassing India

The number of Chinese international students at American universities increased 30% last year, compared to a 15% decline in students from Japan

The number of Chinese international students at American universities increased 30% last year, compared to a 15% decline in students from Japan (Image: SodaHead)

Recently, author Handel Jones told Jing Daily that education will continue to be big business in China in the next several decades, as the country’s middle class grows and pushes greater demand. But far from only benefiting the Chinese education industry, the expanding middle class has already become a significant source of students (and cash) at schools overseas. Despite the global economic slowdown last year, according to the new Open Doors 2010 study by the Washington D.C.-based Institute of International Education (IIE), the number of Chinese international students at American universities rose 30% in 2009 to 127,628. This saw China surpass India for the first time as the top source of foreign students in the United States, which Chinese students comprising 18% of all international students to India’s 15%.

According to the report, Chinese and other foreign students in the U.S. are nothing if not pragmatic, with business and management remaining the top fields of study, followed by engineering, math, and computer science. The overall Asian presence is somewhat more striking, with the top three sending countries — China, India and South Korea — accounting for nearly half (44%) of all international enrollments at American universities. Interestingly enough, the number of new student enrollments from Japan decreased a whopping 15%, following a decline of 14% in 2008. However, this figure isn’t terribly surprising. Earlier this year, a Japan Youth Research Institute survey found that only 41% of Japanese high school students hoped to attend university overseas, compared to 56% in the U.S., 61% in China, and 64% in South Korea. This fits with other recent findings that indicate a more inward-facing trend in most aspects of Japanese society.

According to IIE’s Open Doors 2010 study, universities in California hosted the largest number of foreign students with 94,279, up 1%, followed by New York with 76,146, up 2%, and Texas, with 58,934, up 1%. The New York City metropolitan area continues to be the leading city for international students, with 60,791 enrolled in area schools, up 2.5%. The Los Angeles metropolitan area is in second place with 42,103 international students, down 2%.

While many schools in the U.S. continue to focus on courting Chinese international students, sometimes to the exclusion of students from other countries, as the Houston Chronicle points out in its analysis of the Open Doors report, over-reliance on students from one country is good for the balance sheet but may be bad for the learning environment:

[T]he expansion in Chinese numbers is seen by many in international admissions as a mixed blessing. On one hand, full-fee-paying foreign students are of mounting importance to U.S. colleges’ shaky bottom lines, and many institutions welcome them as a vital way to globalize their campuses.

At the same time, veteran educators worry about over-reliance on a single sending country. Iran, for example, was once the largest source of international students—until the overthrow of the shah, in 1979, halted student travel. Likewise, Japanese enrollments contracted with the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s.

What’s more, having a homogeneous international-student body does not truly increase campus diversity, says Douglas L. Christiansen, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University.

Read IIE’s full Open Doors study here.

Categories

Culture