21 May 2019
New York University has surpassed long-time champion USC in foreign student recruitment. Photo: Internet
New York University has surpassed long-time champion USC in foreign student recruitment. Photo: Internet

What record number of Chinese undergrads in US tells us

Another wave of Chinese undergraduates pushed the number of international students studying in United States colleges and universities up 8 percent last year to a new high of nearly 900,000, according to a new report published Monday.

A total of 274,439 Chinese students came to the US to study, a 16.5 percent increase over the year before and nearly one-third of the total international population, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China sent the largest group, more than double the number of students from India, the second largest group at 102,673.

Based on F-1 visas, the most common issued to foreign students, Beijing and Shanghai sent the most students to the United States.

The China total does not include students from Hong Kong and Macau, which contributed an additional 8,104 and 552 students, respectively, according to the annual Open Doors report released on Monday by the Institute of International Education.

Colleges and universities nationwide have come to depend on Chinese students, who generally pay full tuition, as a way to help boost their budgets during tough economic times, the Los Angeles Times reported.

New York University surpassed USC as the nation’s leader in recruiting lucrative foreign-born students, a distinction my alma mater (Fight On!) has held for 13 years in a row.

USC increased enrollment of students from outside the country to 10,900 but was edged out by NYU’s 11,100 foreign-born students.

For the 2013-14 academic year, USC reported that Chinese enrollment was up 21 percent from the prior year, with 42 percent of its total international students from China.

While China is now responsible for nearly one in three foreign students on US campuses, the surge is marred by controversy.

Admission officers say as many as one in 10 applications to US colleges by Chinese students may include fraudulent material, including phony essays and high-school transcripts.

“Nobody has reliable data on how much it happens,” Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, told CNN. However, he said there has been “a lot of discussion” at national meetings of registrars during the past couple of years about preventing transcript fraud.

Eddie West, director of international initiatives for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said, there are “a lot of Chinese students and parents trying to get into the best quality schools they can”, CNN reported.

“Obviously there’s competition and incentives to cut corners.”

Third-party recruitment companies often help applicants put together admissions packages and the unscrupulous ones get “creative” for fees ranging from US$6,000 to U$10,000.

There are also reports of a healthy cottage industry of ghostwriters that write black market college admissions essays to help wealthy, prospective Chinese exchange students get into a good school.

“In one admissions cycle, I wrote over a hundred essays and earned enough money to pay my bills for the rest of the year, pay off my car loan, and — as a treat for my hardworking hands — receive US$150 Japanese manicures on a bi-weekly basis,” wrote one ghostwriter recently in Vice.

All that being said, I’d like to think that most Chinese students who are accepted to US institutions apply honestly.

It’s also worthy to note that, contrary to popular belief, the majority of Chinese students do not go to the US to enroll in technical programs, known as STEM (short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Non-tech programs are more popular among Chinese students, with 61 percent of them enrolling in subjects such as business and marketing, according to a recent Brookings Institution report.

Interestingly, despite the influx of undergrads detailed by the IEE report, the numbers of Chinese grad students seems to be leveling off.

Admission offers from US graduate schools to Chinese nationals, who make up one-third of all international master’s and doctoral degree students in the US, flattened this year after nearly a decade of rapid annual growth, according to the Los Angeles Times, citing a recent survey by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The drop is only 1 percent from 2013 but could mean Chinese universities are starting to be competitive for high-quality graduate programs.

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

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