More international students are studying at American universities and colleges than ever before, and nearly 30 percent of those students are from mainland China, according to a survey released last week by the Institute of International Education (IIE).

During the 2012-13 academic year, the number of Chinese students in the United States for undergraduate and graduate study grew by 21 percent to reach 235,597 students.

“This is the largest concentration of students of any one place of origin the US has ever seen,” said Rajika Bhandari, IIE’s deputy vice president for research and evaluation.

While graduate students still make up the majority of the Chinese students in the United States at 43.9 percent, undergraduates are catching up. Almost 40 percent of Chinese students in the United States are undergrads, and their numbers are growing rapidly. The growth in undergraduates from China studying at American campuses was up 26 percent compared to the previous academic year, according to IIE.

Many high school students—especially from China’s growing upper and middle class—are foregoing China’s grueling university entrance exam, the gaokao, and choosing to study abroad instead.

In June, Xinhua reported that 9.12 million students took the gaokao this year, compared to 9.15 million in 2012. This year was the fourth straight year that the number of students taking the gaokao has declined, and analysts say both changing demographics and international study have caused the decline. In October, the Wall Street Journal reported that tens of thousands of mainland Chinese students will take the SAT in Hong Kong this year.

Four American universities—the University of Southern California, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University, and New York University—each hosted more than 9,000 international students in the 2012-13 academic year.

For these universities and others, international students can be a major source of additional revenue. At state universities, for example, an international student’s tuition can be more than double that of an in-state student, according to the New York Times.

Many universities have focused recruitment efforts on mainland Chinese students, who not only value the reputation and quality of US degrees, but have plenty of money to spend on tuition. According to consulting group Zinch China, more than half of Chinese students interested in US universities can afford to spend at least $40,000 annually on tuition.

Between tuition and living expenses, international students and their dependents contributed $24 billion to the US economy, which supported nearly 313,000 jobs, according to IIE’s analysis.

More than 70 percent of international students receive the majority of their funds from outside of the United States, and many of these students fund their education themselves or through their families, according to IIE.

[author] Christina Nelson ([email protected]) is the editor of the China Business Review. [/author]

(Photo by Karen via Flickr)

Posted by Christina Nelson