To attract new students, Santa Clara University promotes its top professors, small seminars, long educational tradition and proximity to tech companies including Apple and Netflix.
As Friday's application deadline approaches, the Santa Clara school is among the American universities that are accelerating recruitment in China. This educational pipeline delivered more than 40,000 undergraduates to the U.S. in the 2009-10 academic year -- a 46 percent increase over the previous year -- and promises to bring more.
The newfound wealth of many Chinese and their strong academic preparation make these students an admissions officer's dream. Although China's students have long filled American graduate schools, the country's undergraduates now represent the fastest-growing group of international students. Last year, the number of Indians plateaued and the number of South Koreans declined, but the Chinese population surged.
"We're extending our arms. There is untapped potential," said Santa Clara University admissions director Michael Sexton, who recently completed the school's first recruitment tour in five Chinese cities. "Diversity is a very important educational trait."
A recruiting brochure, written in Chinese, extols the virtue of Santa Clara University's location "in the heart of Silicon Valley, where all technology innovation and entrepreneurship happens." The search for Chinese talent is also under way at the University of San Francisco, where enrollment has jumped from 32 students to 424 in five years. Stanley Nel, University of San Francisco's vice president of internal relations and a recruiter, travels to China four to 10 times a year, staying from a few days to several weeks.
Benefits for campuses
Public universities like UC Berkeley and San Francisco State and community colleges like Foothill and De Anza also have launched recruitment efforts, joining the five-city China Education Expo 2010, which was attended by 70,000 students. Stanford, which does not recruit, reports only a modest increase in applications from China.
Enrollment officials at Santa Clara and the University of San Francisco contend that they can accommodate all students who make the grade and that the international students do not squeeze out Americans.
"Either an applicant has it or not, whether they're from China or South America or Boston," Sexton said.
Chinese students bring added value to the campus, admissions officers say, because of their academic preparation, global perspective and willingness to pay full tuition at cash-strapped campuses. (Most international students are not eligible for financial aid.)
There are two primary reasons Chinese enrollment has jumped so dramatically, said Nel.
Many Chinese people believe the U.S. higher-education system is the best in the world, and they seek multidisciplinary study, close faculty relationships and an ethos of innovation, he said. And with so much of China's growth tied to international trade, families seek to give their children the advantages of English fluency and alumni networking.
For the first time in China's history, students can afford to study abroad, Nel said. The growth of the nation's economy -- and the surge in Shanghai real-estate prices -- has helped create 700,000 new millionaires and a middle class of more than 300 million.
At age 15, China's Minao Wang set her sights on an American education. When it came time to apply to college, she collected her school transcripts, hired an organization to evaluate them and then applied to Santa Clara University.
"It was my idea," said Wang, now 20, the only child of a judge from the city of Wuxi, in Jiangsu province. "I am really glad my mom supported me. She did not want me to go, from the bottom of her heart, but she said if I wanted to do it -- if it made me a better person -- she would do it."
"I heard that America was a more-free country," added Wang, an accounting student who lives with an aunt in Cupertino. "And I didn't want to study for a number on a test. I wanted to study for the fun of learning."
Before arriving, Wang said, "I was really shy, but I have learned how to speak up. America has changed me."
Chinese school officials had long opposed studying abroad, but now they encourage it, wrote Jiang Xueqin, the Yale-educated principal at Peking University High School.
In the past, "losing their best students would mean lower national examination scores, which, as bureaucrats, they live and die by." So most Chinese youth studied in secret, cramming for the American SAT and English-language tests on weekends.
But the nation now fears a shortage of "knowledge workers," he said. In November, Beijing officials "explicitly told the schools they now had to help study-abroad students," instructing them to help students with American applications.
Today's surge may be just the beginning. To prepare students for American education, a robust for-profit educational market has emerged in China. The market leader, New Oriental School -- which offers SAT, Advanced Placement and English-language tests as well as college counseling -- says it has 9.5 million students.
'We have to be ready'
Some American educators urge caution. In a debate at the 2009 National Association for College Admission Counseling titled "The Chinese Are Coming," Vanderbilt University admissions dean Douglas Christiansen said a homogeneous international population doesn't increase campus diversity.
"Do you want to build pipelines throughout the world," he asked, "or do you want to build pipelines to just one country?"
The expansion of the number of Chinese students has created tension on some campuses. Some American students complain of communication problems or say that Chinese students cluster together and distort the grading curve on math tests. There are other challenges, as well, including increased demand for engineering classes and complaints about dining hall rice.
Still, seizing on the demand, universities are working to adapt. At Santa Clara, officials drive to the airport for pickups and drop-offs of Chinese students. They help them set up bank accounts and take them to Walmart and Target. They help them practice asking questions in class and the assertiveness skills that are critical for American academic success.
The University of San Francisco added conversation programs, writing instruction and immigration advising.
"If we build it, they will come," said Sexton. "But we have to be ready."
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 408-920-5565
Advice About America For Chinese Students
Classrooms: Some degree of assertiveness is necessary for success.
Creativity: Americans expect students to produce their own ideas.
Honesty: American academics regard plagiarism as a kind of theft.
Individualist: Self-promotion is more accepted.
Friends: Large collection of friends changes over time.
Obligations: People avoid interdependent situations that entail long-term obligations.
Task-oriented: Relationships are less important than getting the work done.
Law: Applies to everyone -- Americans do not have a "back door" idea.
Information provided by:
HYP Pathway (雅美途)
St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
An Expert on College Admission in the United States.
Office phone: 314-569-0228