In China, Betting It All on a Child in College

China’s success in massively increasing college attendance has outpaced corresponding shifts in its job market, producing a growing “ant tribe” of un- or underemployed graduates. In the latest part of the New York Times series ‘The Education Revolution’, Keith Bradsher explains how this raises the stakes for rural parents, some lacking any formal education themselves, who invest everything in an only-child’s education in the hope that his or her future earnings will support them in old age.

Wu Yiebing has been going down coal shafts practically every workday of his life, wrestling an electric drill for $500 a month in the choking dust of claustrophobic tunnels, with one goal in mind: paying for his daughter’s education.

His wife, Cao Weiping, toils from dawn to sunset in orchards every day during apple season in May and June. She earns $12 a day tying little plastic bags one at a time around 3,000 young apples on trees, to protect them from insects. The rest of the year she works as a substitute store clerk, earning several dollars a day, all going toward their daughter’s education.

[…] Her parents’ sacrifices to educate their daughter explain how the country has managed to leap far ahead of the United States in producing college graduates over the last decade, with eight million Chinese now getting degrees annually from universities and community colleges.

But high education costs coincide with slower growth of the Chinese economy and surging unemployment among recent college graduates. Whether young people like Ms. Wu find jobs on graduation that allow them to earn a living, much less support their parents, could test China’s ability to maintain rapid economic growth and preserve political and social stability in the years ahead.

Reading the whole article is strongly recommended.