For many Chinese, the dream of higher education in America has lost its appeal, as evidenced by the drastic decline in the number of Chinese students attending US universities in the past two years.
The number of Chinese students in the US is on a steady trajectory and reached more than 372,000 in 2019. They accounted for 35 percent of total international students in the US, and Chinese students added $15.9 billion to the US economy that year, according to estimates by the Institute of Education. International.
However, the trend reversed. The number of Chinese students fell 15 percent in the 2020-21 school year to around 317,000. 2022 is likely to see an even bigger drop due to a halving of the number of F-1 visas issued to Chinese students in the first six months of the year.
A recent analysis by The Chronicle of Higher Education showed that “only about 47,000 F-1 visas were issued to Chinese students this summer, 40,000 fewer than those issued from May to August 2021, a 45 percent decline”.
Education observers said that although the COVID-19 pandemic was a major factor in disrupting the influx of Chinese students, tensions between the US and China and the US domestic situation also contributed to the decline.
Stories of anti-Asian hate crimes and gun violence in the US frighten many aspiring Chinese and Asian students.
“My teenage son changed his mind late last year,” a Chinese mother, who wanted to be identified only by her surname Chen, told China Daily. “Like many other ambitious children, he wanted to pursue higher education in the US, but he changed his mind and told me that he would no longer consider the US because he is afraid of all the Asian hate crimes that are happening in the US.”
Chen said widespread reports of gun violence in the US were another major concern for him and several other parents. “Many of us don’t want our children to risk their lives for a lavish US diploma. It’s not worth it,” Chen said.
The 2022 Report on the Study of Chinese Students Abroad by New Oriental Education shows that only 30 percent of Chinese students surveyed wish to study abroad in the US, a major decline from 51 percent in 2015.
Xiaofeng Wan, dean of admissions and coordinator of international recruitment at Amherst College, recently wrote in University World News that “over the past few years, Chinese students have been drawn to many competing countries for the US”.
Data for the UK showed that Chinese student applications there increased 10 percent at the end of June.
Wan said the US is no longer the only destination for Chinese families to send their children to school, and now 70 to 80 percent of Chinese students apply to colleges in countries other than the US. Before the pandemic, only up to 20 percent of Chinese students did so.
Wan’s observations are supported by various examples.
Alice Miao, a 2022 graduate from a high school in Beijing, doesn’t make it into her dream school, the Rhode Island School of Design. However, he was accepted into other top art programs at US institutions, such as the Parsons School of Design and the University of Chicago.
In the end, he chose the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Main reason: cost.
“Tuition fees in the UK are much cheaper than American colleges, and the schools are just as good, if not better,” Miao told China Daily.
Yi Su, a Chinese graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, also chose the UK over the US for his MBA studies.
“The MBA program at Oxford is only one year, whereas it took me two years to get the same degree in the US. It costs twice as much in the US,” said Su.
Vincent Xu, Miao’s classmate, is delighted that he has been accepted into the University of California at Santa Barbara, a highly competitive school for international students.
However, Xu chose to attend the University of British Columbia in Canada because he was ranked 35th, and UC Santa Barbara was ranked 67th in the global college rankings by US News.
Wan said that the availability of foreign branch campuses and joint programs between Chinese and foreign universities also had an impact on the number of Chinese students bound in the US. In addition, the increasing number of Chinese universities ranking highly in major global rankings and the shrinking number of universities in America are also fueling the downward trend.
Wan warned that the US “is on the verge of major changes regarding Chinese student enrollment. Which direction to take will depend largely on how seriously this matter is taken by the US government and US higher education institutions”, he said.