George McKibbens of the South China Morning Post reports that problems facing U.S. schools have not deterred Chinese students from looking to America for their college education:
In a study by China-US Focus, 120,000 Chinese students attended American universities last year, contributing over US$4 billion to the struggling US economy.
At a time when the average American graduate is struggling under US$27,000 in student loan debt which may never be paid, China’s best and brightest – and richest – are keeping struggling US schools open in tough times.
The annual Beijing Education expo has become a priority for American school recruiters. One school which greets applicants at this event is Green River Community College, a tiny low-ranking public college outside of Seattle and charges foreign students US$9,600 per semester when locals pay US$3,522. The school has now begun to promote its wares in Guangzhou, Chengdu and Wuhan. [Source]
The influx of Chinese students to the United States has benefited the American institutions, as wealthy families in willing to pay full can provide a partial solution to budget crises faced by those schools. Some Chinese students even come to the United States early, enrolling in prestigious preparatory schools to gain an upper hand when applying to colleges.
While the number of Chinese students at American universities nearly doubled from 2008 to 2012, The Atlantic’s Matt Sheehan writes that “their presence abroad is not unprecedented:”
[…] The nearly 200,000 students now in the United States are, in fact, heir to a national tradition; many of the People’s Republic of China’s revolutionary leaders found their footing as foreign students nearly a century ago. Zhou Enlai, who served as Premier under Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, the father of China’s economic reforms, both became members of the Communist Party of China while residing in France in the 1920’s. The fledgling Communist Party of China, established in Shanghai in 1921, did much of its early recruiting among idealistic overseas students, many of whom identified with Deng Xiaoping’s stated mission for traveling to France: “To learn knowledge and truth from the West in order to save China.”
The revolutionary pedigree of these former foreign students have inspired hope among Chinese democracy advocates that the 21st century outflow of students will result in a major inflow of liberal ideals, ones that may challenge Communist Party control. New Tang Dynasty, an adamantly anti-Communist Party television station operating out of the United States, has promoted a vision of returnees promoting reform, calling them the seeds from which democracy in China will sprout.
[…] The idea of democratization by osmosis may excite democracy advocates, but interviews with this generation of returnees reveal a different set of priorities: While many in the first wave of Chinese students went abroad in order to save their country, those in the current wave of students are leaving China in order to save themselves. Like their predecessors, modern-day returnees from American colleges often describe finding freedom on foreign shores, but it’s a freedom that’s decidedly more personal than political.
See also previous CDT coverage of the challenges that Chinese students often face while in the US.