For the past 10 years, the number of Chinese students at U.S. universities has been rising. But university officials are starting to see a sharp drop in Chinese students.Several universities have reported drops of 20 percent or more this autumn at the start of a new school term.To get more international students, some schools are advertising in other countries and working to keep the number of Chinese students they have.
U.S. colleges and universities need the money paid by students from China and other countries. International students usually pay the whole tuition amount, unlike American students, many of whom ask for financial aid. University officials and observers say there are several reasons for the falling numbers of Chinese students. They include trade conflicts and political tensions between China and the United States. There also is increasing competition for college students, visa issues and the growth of China’s higher education system.
At Bentley University in Massachusetts, the number of new Chinese students arriving for graduate level work dropped from 110 last autumn to 70. As a result, Bentley officials are wondering whether all of its graduate programs can survive. “I wouldn’t describe it as catastrophically bad,” said the university’s president, Alison Davis-Blake. She added that the university has tried to get more students from other countries as well as from inside the United States.
Large decreases in Chinese students also have been reported this autumn at the University of Vermont, which reported a 23 percent decrease. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln had a 20 percent decrease.China sends more students to study in the United States than any other country. Its 363,000 students represent more than 30 percent of all international students at U.S. universities.
Parents and students in China share concerns with those in other countries about American gun violence as well as immigration issues. In May, the group NAFSA: Association of International Educators identified two main reasons for falling numbers of international students who want to study in the United States: the difficulty of getting a visa, and the social and political environment in the United States.
But there are also problems that affect only Chinese students. The Trump administration has accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property. It is looking very closely at Chinese students who ask for visas to study robotics, flight and high-tech manufacturing. In June, China warned students and other visitors to the United States about possible difficulties in getting U.S. visas.
Xiong Xiong is an electrical engineering student at Beijing Jiaotong University. He said he hopes to study at a U.S. university. But he is worried about the visa process, so he plans to ask to study in Britain.“I’m concerned my visa will be affected,” he said.
Brad Farnsworth is vice president for international global engagement at the American Council on Education. He said that his recent travels in China suggest the claims of economic espionage are making some students think they are not welcome. “The concern is a Chinese student…will be met with animosity…about why they are in the United States,” he said.
International students add an estimated $39 billion to the U.S. economy. Normally, over 5,000 Chinese students are in the colleges of engineering and business at the University of Illinois. The university recently took an insurance policy that will pay it $60 million if the money from Chinese students drops by 20 percent.
Lehigh University in Pennsylvania announced this month it has agreed to pay a recruiter to help bring in more students from India. It also has been taking more interest in African countries south of the Sahara Desert, said Lehigh’s Cheryl Matherly.
Like many other American universities, Lehigh has begun sending employees to Beijing and Shanghai to meet with Chinese students and their parents. The employees want to ease Chinese fears about studying in the U.S. and show that their university wants Chinese students.