The number of students from China studying at universities across the United States has increased dramatically. According to some statistics, the number of undergraduate students from China in the U.S. has doubled in the last two years. Economists say the trend is due, in large part, to a growing middle class in China. Los Angeles county has one of the largest Chinese student populations in the U.S. – totaling more than 4000 students.
At the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, it is not difficult to spot students from China. They gather regularly for social events, such as this Mid-Autumn festival.
Environmental engineering student Sun Wei said he has not met many Americans because there are so many students from his home country. But he said there is a positive side to this.
“The benefit is when I arrived it doesn’t take much adjusting,” Wei said. “It’s all Chinese.”
Opportunity and challenge
But coming to the United States is not easy for many Chinese students.
An Rupeng, a doctoral student at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, said that being away from family has been difficult him and his wife.
“We are the only child in both families. And when your parents get older, they tend to miss you a lot and miss their grandson a lot,” said An.
But An said he has enjoyed experiencing a different culture.
Ferdinando Guerra, an economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, said Chinese students have helped the local economy by contributing more than $100 million last year. And he said they contributed more than $4.5 billion to the U.S. economy.
“The number of Chinese students studying in the United States has almost tripled in the past decade, and has almost quadrupled since 1995,” said Guerra.
Chinese wealth grows
The main reason for the dramatic increase is the growth of the Chinese economy, said RAND Corporation economist Jim Hosek.
“There are a lot of Chinese entrepreneurs, businessmen of all sorts business leaders, who are simply wealthier today, and they can afford to send their sons and daughters abroad,” said Hosek.
Chinese native Li Jing agreed. She received her doctorate in education at the University of Southern California. Li said the way in which Chinese students pay for their tuition abroad has changed since she studied this topic in 2004.
“The majority of Chinese students received scholarships,” Li said. “Now, the majority of Chinese students pay their own way to come here to study.”
Influx of Chinese students
In addition, the number of undergraduate students from China in the United States has doubled during the past two years, said University of Southern California’s Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni. He said that although Chinese students typically study engineering and the hard sciences, a new generation is starting to major in subjects such as business, education, and film.
“I think one of the trends we see with this generation is they’re really thinking about what they can learn here that will help them when they go back to China. It’s not like they want to move here permanently, like previous generations of students wanted to,” said Soni.
It is a trend that worries some Americans, said economist Jim Hosek.
“The number one concern on people’s minds has been the outflow of human capital,” he said.
Exchange of culture, ideas, skills
University of Southern California political scientist Stanley Rosen said Chinese are using what they learned here in the United States to set up businesses in China.
“So it’s really a more personal usage of what they get here and then use that technology, which may not exist or is at a lower level in China, to establish their own business and be supported by the government in doing so. But that’s a problem in other countries as well,” said Rosen.
But experts, like Soni, say much can be gained from having Chinese students in the United States.
“It’s easy to demonize the other when you don’t know the other. But as Chinese students become more integrated in American society and make American friends, and as American students increasingly go to China to study and to learn, I think we become more integrated as cultures, as nations, which makes the opportunity for collaboration, cooperation, much more apparent and achievable,” said Soni.
In addition to more integration of the East and the West, economists say Chinese graduates of American universities who return to their homeland also could help foster more Chinese investment in the United States.