How Chinese Students Saved America's Colleges

There’s a long tunnel connecting the Haidianhuangzhuang subway station in northwest Beijing with the Gate City Mall, and it’s plastered with advertising displays. I was about halfway through it Wednesday when I noticed that every last one of the ads was for classes to prepare students for the ACT or SAT, the two main U.S. college entrance tests.

EF English Schools has classrooms in the mall, so that’s a partial explanation. But EF has 24 such outposts just in Beijing; in Shanghai there are 27, in Guangzhou, 17, and so on. I’m guessing there are a lot of subway corridors in China like the one I saw.

A survey released this week by Bain and Kantar Worldpanel found that Chinese shoppers are increasingly turning to domestic brands and abandoning foreign ones. That’s not happening with post-secondary education, though! The number of Chinese students at foreign universities rose from 417,351 in the 2005/2006 school year to 712,157 in 2012/2013 (the most recent year for which I could find data). The U.S. is by far the leading destination:

China has been among the top senders of students to the U.S. for quite a while, but things have really taken off since 2007:

This rapid rise in the number of Chinese students crossing the Pacific is the product partly of rising affluence in China and frustration with the relative inflexibility of the Chinese higher-education system. But it's also been driven by U.S. colleges and universities looking to counter a decline in the number of college-age kids in the U.S. and, in the case of state universities, big cutbacks in government aid, especially since the financial crisis of 2008.


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