Capturing the Rising Tide: Attracting Chinese Students to American Universities

Chinese students play a crucial role in shaping the international student community in the United States, not only by enhancing the diversity of the student body but also through substantial financial contributions. Despite their significant impact, they often lack access to financial aid compared to international students from other nationalities. In America, Chinese international students invest approximately three times more in their education compared to their peers. This financial commitment forms a crucial revenue stream for U.S. colleges and universities, underlining their importance as contributors to institutional financial stability.

In light of a recent development in China’s education landscape, a significant transformation seems imminent. The new educational reform initiative aims to redirect 40% of Chinese high school graduates towards pathways like technical colleges or specialized institutions, with a focus on practical skill development rather than university education. Consequently, this shift has triggered a wave of concern among Chinese parents, prompting them to consider sending their children overseas to international schools. Our Finance and Operations Director, Yi Ren, who once immigrated to China as a student, shared, ‘I’ve seen a growing sense of panic among many parents I know, with an increasing inclination to explore international schooling options for their children.”

The impact of this reform will lead to a potential decrease in local opportunities for Chinese students to pursue professional education in their home country. This would mean a considerable demand increase for university education worldwide, an opportunity that the U.S. education system cannot overlook. In 2021 alone, Chinese international students made a substantial contribution of $10.5 million to the US Economy, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report. This underscores the need to recognize and sustain the vital role that Chinese students play in supporting the financial health of American colleges and universities.

This flowchart illustrates the Chinese education system after taking the Senior School Entrance Exam. Under the new policy, only approximately 60% of students gain admission to universities, while the remaining 40% are encouraged to pursue technical colleges or specialized institutions focusing on skill development.

What contributes to Chinese student admission to college?

Within the Chinese education system, they undergo a 2-day exam known as “Gaokao.” Gaokao is a college entrance exam that Chinese students can only take once. This test helps determine whether they would be placed into China’s top universities. This year alone, 12.91 million Chinese students applied to take the Gaokao. However, with this new policy, fewer Chinese students would be admitted to these top universities, ultimately causing the Gaokao exam to be extremely important.

For context, this exam is similar to the SATs taken in the United States. However, Chinese students are only able to take gaokao once a year. Gaokao becomes a determining factor in what Chinese college a student will go to. Students with the highest scores can go to top, prestigious universities, while students who did not do so well cannot go to top universities.

Because it is an exam that can determine the future of Chinese students, parents often spend a lot of money and time to ensure that their child obtains a high score. Thus, when push comes to shove, studying abroad may seem like a viable option for students and parents. Ren mentioned that during her time in high school, “parents would use money or connections to help bring their children to prestigious schools,” despite not doing well on the exams. Parental aspirations for prestigious higher education institutions often remain steadfast despite evolving policies, ultimately providing an opportunity for U.S. universities.

With the aim of providing a top-notch education, American universities, ranging from Ivy League establishments to public institutions, are poised to draw in Chinese international students to their academic programs. In the wake of a decline in the number of Chinese students due to the pandemic, this transition presents American institutions with a valuable opportunity to recover the lost student population.