China’s Booming Student Export Market
I’ve found it interesting reading through the annual “Open Doors 2012” report from the Institute of International Education, which tracks data concerning international students studying in the U.S., as well as U.S. students studying abroad.
China remained the largest sender of students to the U.S. for the third year in a row in the 2011/12 school year. In IIE’s data gathering, the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong are all counted separately. Their work is focused primarily on the tertiary education sector, so their report does not including secondary school enrollment.
Overall new college and university level enrollment by international students in the U.S. rose by 5.7% in 2011/12. Students from China, on the other hand, grew by 23.1%, to a total of 194,029.
During that year, students from the Chinese mainland accounted for 25% of all international enrollment. India ranked second with 13.1%, followed by South Korea with 9.5%. Other Asian places of origin in the top ten included Taiwan (in 6th place, with 3% of the total), Japan (7th, with 2.6%), Vietnam (8th, with 2%).
The record high 764,495 international student enrollment in the 50 U.S. states contributed US$ 22.7 billion to the U.S. economy, according to IIE estimates. More than 60% of international students report personal and family sources as their source of funds.
For purposes of rough estimation, if we assumed that all students spent the same amount, then with 29.5% of total international enrollment in US colleges and universities coming from Greater China, that’s an expenditure in the range of US$ 6.69 billion in the US in the 2011 academic year. Big bucks.
In addition, the “upstream” consumer market in China for test preparation (SAT, GMAT, TOEFL etc.) and private English tuition is in excess of US$ 5 billion per year in tuition and fees. An important driver of this demand is the opportunity for overseas study in English speaking countries including the U.S.
Put into this perspective, higher education in China is indeed a very big business, and growing fast.
On a state-by-state basis, California plays host (and cash register) for the largest number of international students, with a total of 102,789 spending some US$ 3.2 billion. New York comes in second, with 82,000-plus and US$ 2.58 billion in expenditures.
Looking back just ten years to the 2002 data, India was ahead of China as the source of the most international students. California and New York were still the number one and number two destinations for international students.
For ten years’ running, the University of Southern California has been the leader among US universities in terms of numbers of international students ( 9,269 in 2011/12 versus 5,950 in 2002). Second or third place has typically gone to New York University, with traditionally strong rankings also by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Columbia, Purdue, and University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
The only Ivy League school regularly in the top 20 in terms of hosting international students has been Harvard University.
U.S. students are also studying abroad in growing numbers, but the financial crisis of 2008 put a plateau into the growth curve. Europe is still the traditional leader as a host region for US students studying abroad, with some 54% heading there.
China is now ranked 5th in the world as a host for US students. In 2010/11 (the latest data available), there were 14,596 U.S. students in China, nearly a five-fold increase over the past ten years.
It’s also interesting to reflect on the fact that although international student numbers in the U.S. have been rising very steadily for many years, they have been outpaced by the growth in U.S. student enrollment overall. As a result, the percentage of international students within the total enrollment numbers has remained in the range of between 3 and 4% during the past ten years.
In 2011/12, total enrollment in US universities and colleges was 20.6 million, as compared with 15.9 million ten years earlier. To put that into a bit more historical perspective, total enrollment in 1981/82 was just 12.3 million; in 1970/71 the number was 8.5 million. In other words, dramatic growth.
Talking with HR experts, it’s clear that the U.S. now has a surplus of college graduates and a serious shortage of young people with more formal technical training. While there remains serious unemployment in the white collar job sector, companies are finding it hard to fill many technical and skilled manufacturing positions. This is a serious disconnect.
Different people will rightly focus on different aspects of the growth story in Chinese students going to America — some positive, some negative. On balance, to me, it’s a good news story. We need all the bright young talent we can get who have the language and thinking skills to help navigate our challenging future.
Let’s just hope that in addition to a college degree they learn that the world doesn’t owe them a living. Success takes hard work, the ability to bounce back from adversity, and an ethical compass to navigate by; but international study can open many new doors.
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