As China’s economic conditions improve, more of its youths are finding their way to American colleges and universities.
And Kansas University is no exception.
Ailun Li, a KU senior from Beijing, is president of KU’s Chinese Students and Scholars Friendship Association. It’s a group that’s growing all the time, Li said.
“We’ve certainly noticed the trend,” he said. “It’s good to have more Chinese students here, and we’re doing a really great job of promoting Chinese culture on campus.”
In 2005, China overtook India as the country with the most international KU students, but the most rapid growth began after fall 2006.
That year, KU enrolled 232 Chinese students. By 2009, that figure had nearly tripled to 676. India remained in second place with 196 students.
The trend is likely to keep increasing, experts say.
Chinese students have yearned for an American education for some time, said John Kennedy, a KU associate professor of political science who studies Chinese politics and society.
In China, an entrance exam plays a large role in determining which college students will attend, Kennedy said.
“Your college — and your college opportunities — are tied to your scores on that exam,” he said.
Students who want new experiences abroad and prestigious American degrees are nothing new in China, Kennedy said, but what has changed in recent years is the economic opportunity for many Chinese families.
Li said he came to the United States because he believed there were more opportunities for student engagement and involvement.
“We do have student governments in China, but they are practically puppets to the administration,” he said. “They practically do nothing.”
As wealth increases in parts of China, more students can pursue the education of their dreams.
“The income gap and the educational opportunity gap in China is widening dramatically,” Kennedy said.
The number of families that can afford an American education is still a relatively low percentage — but a low percentage of a population of 1.3 billion people still is a great many students, Kennedy said.
Many wind up coming to KU specifically because of the Midwestern culture, he said, without the hustle of the coasts.
English education is emphasized in China — it is covered on about one-fifth of the college entrance exam, Kennedy said — but many students receive additional training at KU at its Applied English Center.
Still, Kennedy said, the increasing number of Chinese undergraduates taking his courses have typically performed well academically.
“The students I’ve had have been remarkable” in how well they’ve been able to learn, Kennedy said. “They’ve been incredible.”
The influx is good for both Chinese and American students, said Sheree Willis, director of KU’s Confucius Institute, which promotes educational opportunities in Chinese language and culture.
She suggested that American students approach their foreign peers and introduce them to other aspects of the culture — anything from hanging out with their friends to going to a baseball game.
In the process, she said, it’s likely American students would gain a broader appreciation of the richness of Chinese culture.
“Not every student at KU can do a study abroad experience,” Willis said. “Really, if you can’t study abroad, really the next best thing is to have an international experience at KU.