Report: More American Students Going to China for Higher Ed

The Ford Foundation’s 2012 Open Doors report, released on January 30, says that an increasing number of American students are going to China to study for credit, as well as for many other study opportunities. The State Department’s 100,000 Strong initiative, meant to encourage these numbers to go even higher, is opening as a nonprofit with backing from Ford and other private institutions.

A decade ago, the number of American students in China was very small, but it is steadily increasing. The annual report has tracked the numbers:

IIE’s 2012 Open Doors report had previously shown that some 15,000 students studied in China for academic credit in 2010-11, marking a nearly fivefold increase in the number of American students studying abroad in China over the last decade. The new study has now found that over 11,000 more young Americans went to China (including mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau) in 2011 to obtain a full degree from a Chinese university or to take part in learning experiences such as study tours, language study, internships, and volunteering/service learning.

State department officials say that the Chinese government has offered 20,000 scholarships for American students willing to come to China. The new 100,000 Strong Foundation will seek to find students to fill these slots, and it will also promoted the study of Mandarin Chinese. “100,000” is the target, set in 2009, for the number of Americans who would go on exchange programs to China.

The initiative, announced in 2009, aims to substantially increase the number and diversity of U.S. students studying in China, with a cumulative goal of having 100,000 American students study in China by 2014. On January 24th, 2013, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the creation of a new independent nonprofit organization, the 100,000 Strong Foundation, to enhance and expand opportunities for US students to learn Mandarin and study in China, furthering the goals of the initiative.

There’s no question that far more Chinese students come to the United states and study English, as the Chinese K12 educational system is seen by many as unbearably rigid and competitive.  The college entrance exam, called the gaokao, is the central event of a Chinese student’s life, and every hour from an early age is devoted to preparing for it. Some students complain that the constant process of cramming for tests means that they have no time to develop as individuals or think for themselves.

China is second only to Canada in sending its students to Harvard, for example. In recent years, Chinese applications to American universities has rapidly increased, doubling from about 100,000 to about 200,000 in just six years.

The number of Americans in China is nowhere close to these figures, but many students do take study opportunities there. The Open Doors report says that more Americans are in China than are reported by official university exchange programs.

According to this new IIE report, nearly 9,000 American students went to China in 2011 on short term programs abroad that were not reported as study abroad for academic credit by a U.S. college or university, and close to 2,200 additional American students were enrolled directly in Chinese universities to work toward full degrees from the host institution.

The uncounted students had made applications and arrangements on their own, so they are harder to track. The Ford Foundation’s Beijing office made a special effort to find and study these students, but much less is known about their experiences with integrating into Chinese communities and schools.

Allan Goodman, President of the Ford Foundation’s Institute of International Education, pointed out that the existence of these students is a sign of hope for future exchange study and cultural understanding:

“While we urge all campuses to send more of their students to study abroad, it is also very encouraging to see many students pursuing additional international experience, to obtain language and practical skills that will serve them well in their careers.”

Study of the full picture of US students in China will continue in 2013. A former Ford Foundation representative in China said that there is a wide range of questions we need to answer in order to create effective support for more students to go.

“We hope to inspire greater research in this field and explore some remaining but important questions. Are the needs of under-represented communities being met? Are interns getting the training and experience they expect in China? What kinds of social media tools and alumni networks can best help returning students to share and build on their experiences in China?”

With the right supports in place and the new 100,000 Strong Foundation actively recruiting students, the numbers should be rising steeply. Ford believes that 100,000 is not an unrealistic target and that it could possibly be reached by 2014.

02 4, 2013
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