While China’s students have long filled American graduate schools, its undergraduates now represent the fastest-growing group of international students. In 2008-9, more than 26,000 were studying in the United States, up from about 8,000 eight years earlier, according to the Institute of International Education.
Students are ending up not just at nationally known universities, but also at regional colleges, state schools and even community colleges that recruit overseas. Most of these students pay full freight (international students are not eligible for government financial aid) ”” a benefit for campuses where the economic downturn has gutted endowments or state financing.
The boom parallels China’s emergence as the world’s largest economy after the United States. China is home to a growing number of middle-class parents who have saved for years to get their only child into a top school, hoping for an advantage in a competitive job market made more so by a surge in college graduates. Since the 1990s, China has doubled its number of higher education institutions. More than 60 percent of high school graduates now attend a university, up from 20 percent in the 1980s. But this surge has left millions of diploma-wielding young people unable to find white-collar work in a country still heavily reliant on low-paying manufacturing.