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In line with national trend, more Chinese students studying at 'U'

BY ALLIE WHITE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 9, 2009

A new report shows that the number of Chinese international students attending United States colleges is on the rise — and University officials say the trend is especially true at the University.

A Dec. 8 article published by USA Today reported that Chinese college students have been enrolling at American universities in record numbers. Across the country, a total of 98,510 Chinese graduate and undergraduate students were enrolled at U.S. institutions in the 2008-2009 academic year, meaning that roughly 15 percent of international students were from China. These numbers also signify a staggering 60 percent increase from the previous academic year in the number of Chinese students studying abroad in the U.S.

At the University of Michigan, officials told The Michigan Daily that the same trend is holding true here and pointed to several reasons for the growing Chinese population on campus.

According to the University’s International Center’s 2009 statistical report, the number of Chinese students enrolled at the University has seen a 105-percent increase in the last 10 years, from 600 in the 1999-2000 academic year to 1,227 in 2008-2009.

Even this past year has a seen a significant rise in enrollment with an additional 227 Chinese students than the 2007-2008 academic year.

Though the University’s international reputation for academic excellence is a key aspect in attracting Chinese students, there are other factors at work as well, officials said.

Miranda Brown, associate professor of Asian languages and culture, cited increased wealth and the development of a middle class in China as major reasons for the surge in students.

Mentioning the one-child policy implemented by the Chinese government in 1979 — the population control plan that restricts the number of children married urban couples can have to one, if the family wishes to receive full government benefits — Brown said it is now easier for parents to afford an overseas education for their children.

“There’s a lot more money than there used to be,” Brown said. “A lot of middle-class families want the best for their kids, and they only have one, so they’re able to concentrate all their resources on that child.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, Mary Gallagher, director of the University’s Center for Chinese Studies, wrote in an e-mail interview that education in China is incredibly important, and the strong economy has led the developing middle class to be able to afford an international education.

“(Education) is the main means of social mobility in China,” Gallagher wrote. “If you succeed academically in China, you can break down other barriers of discrimination.”

She went on to note that for many of these middle-class parents, post-secondary education in the United States is so attractive because they believe fluency in English is imperative for success.

Similarly, Brown said that it’s difficult to find a job straight out of college in China, and a U.S. education may serve as a leg-up.

“You either want to get into the top-tier school in China,” she said. “Or you want to maybe beat out the competition by having an American degree.”

John Greisberger, director of the University’s International Center, said that while highly regarded universities and colleges do exist in China, there is not enough space to accommodate every student who wants to go on to higher education.

“My understanding is that there still aren’t sufficient tertiary institutions in China to accommodate all those in China who want to go on to higher education,” Greisberger said. “And so the Chinese need to look to another country for opportunities, and the U.S. is well-known as being the best place in the world to go for higher education, and we’re at one of the best schools in the country.”

Robyn Wang, an LSA senior, is originally from the Canton Province of China.

When asked why she chose to study in the United States, and more specifically at the University of Michigan, she said it was mainly because America has a better educational system than her native china, and that “Michigan has a good reputation.”

Like Wang, Gallagher noted that the University is an appealing place for Chinese students because “it is a large, well-known research university with strong historical ties to China.”

In an effort to promote and strengthen these ties, the University established a joint institute with Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2006 and with Peking University in 2009.

According the Griesberger, these joint institutes permit students to study for two years in China and then two years at the University, ultimately earning degrees from both institutions. They also allow for a “strategic global partnership” between the two universities, as stated on the UM-SJTU Joint Institute website.

Though it’s unclear whether the joint institutes have led to the increase in Chinese students at the University or vice-versa, University President Mary Sue Coleman spoke of the University’s ongoing efforts to increase the school’s international outreach, in particular to China, during a fireside chat with students on Tuesday.

Coleman mentioned the possibility of opening an office in China to make information about the University available to prospective students, as well improve connections with undergraduates.

With China’s ever-growing presence in the world economy and the influx of Chinese college students, Coleman said she believes it’s time to “re-think” the way the University interacts with international students.

“For us, the notion is to have successful programs that people can see that we deliver very high quality programs, high quality education,” Coleman said. “That’s part of the changing dynamic.”