An increasing number of lower middle-class Chinese students are beginning to travel to the United States for higher education, often enrolling in community colleges in an effort to earn a more affordable bachelor's degree.
According to the Institute of International Education, the number of Chinese students studying at US community colleges has increased from 2,500 in 2007 to over 16,200. Last year, over 300,000 international students came into the country to study, boosting the US economy by billions of dollars. Many families have been saving for years so their children could study in the US.
Many are coming in an effort to escape the high-pressure and overcrowded educational system found in China.
Credit Suisse reports that although the economy in China is slowing down, for the first time the middle class in the country is the largest in the world.
While thousands of students who enroll in US colleges each year come from affluent families, Amy Yan, assistant director of the international student center at Pasadena City College, noted that for each one of these students, there are several others who are struggling financially.
"It is a stereotype that all Chinese students are rich and have (Mercedes) Benzes and Bentleys. It's just not true," she said. "It's just that the rich students show off more."
A 2014 report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation shows almost half of the 20,000 students from China studying within LA County were in fact attending community colleges. Intermediary agencies in China are currently marketing these colleges as a stepping stone to a four-year university, writes Frank Shyong for The Los Angeles Times.
"It used to be that only the top students could come to the U.S.," Michael Wan, chief executive of the Irvine-based Wenmei Education Consulting Group, told the newspaper. "Now, anybody with money can come."
While some are concerned that the community colleges are not equipped enough to handle the increasing number of international students, with schools such as the University of California voting to place a cap on the number of out-of-state and international students at UCLA and UC Berkeley, those who support the movement say that the students are contributing to the US economy and offering exposure to other cultures to American students which in turn help to build international networks.
In an effort to better handle the influx, many colleges and universities are beginning to offer five-year programs, with the first year fully dedicated to learning to speak English.
Meanwhile, China is working toward keeping their students in the country by investing billions of dollars into higher education and research and building state-of-the-art labs in an effort to offer students opportunities they may not receive in the United States, writes Peter O'Dowd for WBUR.
At the same time, Chinese students say they enjoy the freedom of the educational approach used in the United States as opposed to the rigid structure found in China.