Study abroad programs are still popular with millions of Chinese students

In April of 2019, China’s Ministry of Education revealed that a record high 662,100 Chinese students studied abroad in 2018, of these 596,300 students were self-funded, 30,200 were sponsored by the Chinese government and 35,600 were supported by the private sectors.  This new record number is an 8.8% increase from the previous year and it shows studying abroad is still popular with Chinese students.

Chinese students are turning away from U.S. schools

The growing number of Chinese students studying abroad, particularly on U.S. college campuses in the last decade, can send a misleading message to U.S. colleges and universities that they are the main beneficiaries of this trend.  However, the percentage of growth in Chinese students going to the U.S. has been decreasing since the 2010/11 academic year.  This means many Chinese students have been selecting other countries over the U.S. as their destinations.

The following table, based on data from OPEN DOORS, shows the percentage changes in the growth of Chinese students attending U.S. colleges and universities. The data demonstrates a downward trend beginning the 2009/10 academic year.

Academic YearGrowth Percentage

An unfriendly atmosphere hurts Chinese enrollment in U.S colleges

Many factors are involved in why Chinese students have begun to turn away from the U.S.  One that has caused the most concern in academia is the fact that Trump administration has been restricting visas for Chinese STEM students and increasingly refusing to grant them.  Other factors include the limit on visa duration, the feeling of being under surveillance, the possibility of ending OPT, and the US-China trade war.

Since 2018, FBI officials have visited several U.S. research universities and have advised them to monitor Chinese students and scholars who are involved in research that may have defense applications.

In May 2019, an Arizona Congressman planned to introduce a bill entitled Fairness for High-Skilled Americans Act of 2019.”   This proposed bill is trying to end OPT – one of the most popular features of studying in the U.S.   Please refer to our blog post entitled “Will Optional Practical Training a thing of the past” for further details.

On top of these unfriendly policies, the intensified trade war between the U.S. and China has worsened the matters.  In June 2019, the Chinese government officially warned its students of the “risks of studying in the U.S.”

Other countries are benefitting at U.S. schools’ expense

Schools from other countries have been aggressively taking advantage of this perfect opportunity and nibbling market share from U.S. schools in the world education market.  Just take a look at how other popular study-abroad destinations are doing with enrollments from international and Chinese students.

2017/18I: 3.6%
C: 12%
I: 13%,
C: 18.89%
I: 16.25%,
C: 2%

For Canada, it is interesting to note that the number of international students is increasing at a higher rate than that of Canadian students.  Even though the rate of increase for Chinese students at colleges and universities was only 2%, overall international enrollment at all education levels went up 16.25%.  Will the new international students be likely to be future college freshmen in Canada?   Could the doubt of become a reality – “Will the No. 1 destination, the United States, lose substantial numbers of students to Canada?”

Why should your school aggressively develop a Chinese student recruitment strategy?

Because –
(1) The low birth rate in the U.S. will cause a 15% decrease in college enrollment by 2025.  Your school may face sharply lower enrollment in the near future.  Lower enrollment means some programs or departments may be closed and some staff or faculty may be laid off.

(2) “State appropriations per full-time student have fallen from an inflation-adjusted $8,489 in 2007 to $7,642 in 2017, ” according to PBS Newshour.  Less funding for colleges translates into a higher cost of attendance for every student.

(3) Many top schools now can take GaoKao scores from China as an admissions requirement.  Why not take advantage of this trend and get more Chinese students who can pay tuition in full?

(4) Studying abroad used to be a luxury in China for the elite but now it is popular with even middle-income families.  That means the potential customer base for your school is expanding.

(5) The majority of Chinese students who study abroad have used agents or consultants to get through the admissions process.  How to get your message across to agents or consultants effectively takes more than sending a representative who can speak Chinese.

A strategic plan for communicating with study abroad agents and consultants has to be implemented so your school can be within their scope when they search from thousands of schools for their customers.

(6) Chinese young people change their social media preferences at a very fast pace.   This means that you will need to cope with the trend and to target your prospective Chinese audiences efficiently so you can generate higher ROI from your recruiting efforts.

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