China's students are becoming a big factor in US colleges — according to one figure, 157,588 Chinese nationals studied in U.S. colleges in 2011, a 23% increase from the year before, and parents are apparently willing to spend big — one couple from Hong Kong are suing a former Harvard professor who they paid $2 million to get him into the school (he apparently failed). Perhaps the most incredible figure is that some 90% of China's megarich want their children to study in the US, according to one recent study.
But why are Chinese students flocking to America?
Well to understand that, let's look at the three different types of Chinese students who end up at US colleges.
- They're smart. China's best students are probably aware that if they attend university in China, they are not attending the most academically excellent universities in the world. For example, the recent QS rankings listed just 7 universities out of the top 100 that were situated within China and Hong Kong. Another recently published list from the Times of London has just 3 in the top 100. Even the best universities have been hit by scandals.
- They're rich. To gain acceptence to a top Chinese university, students must take a standerdized test known as the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (aka the gaokao). It's somewhat comparable to the SATs, but harder. Much harder. "If the SATs are the academic equivalent of, say, a brisk footrace, the gaokao is an Iron Man triathlon," the WSJ's Jeff Yang wrote earlier this year. "Across a minefield and through a piranha-infested river that ends in a waterfall. With people throwing ninja stars at you the whole time! Freaking ninja stars." The point of the test is to level the playing field, and it does — to an extent. Of course, those with money can find loopholes to the test, but if you're a rich Chinese parent with money to spare and a less-than-genius child, it may make more sense to aim for a US colleges and their more esoteric application processes. “I think the mentality is, ‘you can buy your way in,’ " academic consultant Elizabeth Stone told the the Boston Globe.
- They're ambitious. A Ivy League college degree has, to a certain extent, become a badge of honor for the privilieged in China. Children of both ousted Chongquing party boss Bo Xilai and future leader Xi Jinping have ended up at Harvard, for example. Parents wish to emulate that. "Going to Harvard means that the way they raised their child was successful," Yang Kui, publisher of the best selling how-to book "Harvard Girl", told the New York Times in 2009.
Of course, these three reasons are not mutually exclusive (probably closer to the opposite, in fact), and they may change as Chinese universities rise up the ranks of the global leaderboard (as is already beginning to happen). For now, it's a nice cottage industry for education consultants.
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