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Jay's Take: More Chinese in U.S. Colleges Good for All

Today’s startling story about a jump in applications to American colleges from China contradicts a widely held belief that Chinese high schools and colleges have surpassed ours, and our children will soon be driving taxi cabs in Beijing, begging for tips from formerly Communist billionaires. My colleague Susan Kinzie discovered that the long-held admiration among Chinese for U.S. universities has not died, but grown stronger, particularly now that so many more Chinese can afford to come here.

The Chinese learn fast. Their own universities are hard to get into, have poor living conditions and suffer from old equipment and a political system that still squashes free thinkers. American universities are the opposite, something the growing Chinese middle class is discovering from the Internet and the many American contacts they have made in the 30 years since relations were normalized in 1979, the year I moved to Beijing as the Post’s reporter.

We have plenty of room in this country for more bright, motivated undergraduates who can pay tuition. I also believe that what those students learn here can only bring more freedom and creativity to their great nation when they get back home. That will be a benefit for the whole world. Also, our own students will get some needed in-your-face competition in their classes and their labs from young Chinese whose culture respects science and engineering, unlike our fixation on careers on law and finance. And those who criticize American education will learn that, at least when it comes to our colleges, we can still teach the world a thing or two.

By Washington Post editors  | May 1, 2009; 12:00 AM ET
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Amen! This matches my own experience exactly.

Posted by: bokamba | April 28, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Jay, I would have no qualm with having more foreign students in American classrooms, as long as MORE American students are encouraged to take their place in the same science and math classrooms. You'd think with the economy the way it is, and the need for more American engineers, that American universities would be charging American engineering students LESS than they charge for other majors, rather than more! I think permitting foreign students to take up as many seats in our engineering schools is only good to a point. Rather than point to the obvious that Americans don't admire careers in engineering as much as they do in law and finance, tell me creative ways to get American students back into those engineering curriculum seats!

Posted by: 1voraciousreader | May 1, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Jay, as a Chinese national with undergraduate degree from US, I would say my Chinese compatriots are equally fixated on careers in finance/law as our American classmates. Most of my classmates and friends from other schools end up in the square mile of Hong Kong's Central District, working for investment banks, law firms, and private equity houses. Even those who chose science/engineering majors end up with investment banks as well. Also we chose to leave US not because of the ambition to build up China's financial power but because of housing allowance and the city's 10%-15% income tax rate (versus that of 35% in NYC). It is not a appropriate to mark Chinese students with strengths in science and engineering, as we think much more the same way in terms of choosing a decent, good-paying career as our college classmates from Westchester County or Northern Virginia.

Posted by: jsy2007 | May 3, 2009 6:45 AM | Report abuse

"We have plenty of room in this country for more bright, motivated undergraduates who can pay tuition", and what, the heck with those (US) students who can't afford the tuition? That's some "take" Jay - - US college slots are now officially up for sale to the highest bidder?? What a thoughtful position: Education - the great leveler (for those who can afford it)! ("Class Struggle", indeed. And if you're in the "wrong" class, I guess it's just too bad for you, right?)

Posted by: EverythingForSale | May 3, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

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