Chinese Kids and American Private High Schools

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Thumbs up for a great article in The Atlantic by Helen Gao entitled “How China’s New Love Affair With U.S. Private Schools Is Changing Them Both.” An excellent read that comes at the subject from the point of view of the schools, parents and students. The numbers themselves are eye-catching:

In the past few years, Chinese students have been flocking to American colleges, anticipating a better education, greater opportunities, and prestige. Last year, 157,588 Chinese nationals studied in U.S. colleges, a 23% increase from the year before.

[ . . . ]

According to the U.S. Department Homeland Security, only 65 Chinese students studied at American private high schools in the 2005-06 academic year. By 2010-11, the number had grown by a factor of 100 to 6,725 students.

[. . . ]

The Association of Boarding Schools, an organization with roughly 300 member schools, has partnered with a Chinese education consulting agency to organize large school fairs in Beijing and Shanghai. In six years, boarding schools like Deerfield and The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut reported a ten-fold increase in the number of Chinese applications. Each received less than 20 applicants in the 2005-2006 academic year and more than 200 in 2011-2012. If they were all accepted, the schools would be one third Chinese.

What’s even more interesting of course is what this all means to China. I was particularly impressed by the way Gao characterizes this trend, which involves sending young Chinese kids away for their studies, with the expectation that they will be back someday to participate in the Chinese economy. This is a really great line:

[T]hey seem driven by a combination of faith in China’s future and distrust of its present[.]

That sums this up very nicely.

I do worry, though, about what all this says about the continuing stratification of Chinese society. Sending the best and brightest away to school may be good for these kids, but are we looking at the seeds of a future ruling class whose life experience is totally at odds with the average Chinese citizen? Perhaps we’re already there.

7 responses on “Chinese Kids and American Private High Schools

  1. Bill Rich

    It is _not_ sending the best and brightest away. It is sending the riches and most at risk away. The best and brightest usually stays and go to Beida or Qinghua.

  2. 阿江

    There’s a program called 鏘鏘三人行 on PhoenixTV/鳳凰衛視 –can’t find the exact episode–, in which 查建英/Jianying Zha was a guest speaker, and said the difference between Chinese back in the turn of the early 20th century, is that they were willing to take in good ideals that the west had to offer. Now, it’s not so much ( A lot of the students that come here don’t take in what the west may offer, they merely say things like, “跟咱們北京比起來。。。” [“Compared to BeiJing…”] Either something can’t compare with BeiJing, or BeiJing already has it. They have that really arrogant/牛逼 attitude. As the Chinalawblog pointed out though, this tends to be more of an issue where you have a larger population of Chinese students.
    I’m not saying everything in the west is great (compare our internet speeds with those in Japan and Korea, and it’s pathetic), but “When in Rome…”

    Even if these 富二代/princelings go back to China, aside from having an American degree, I don’t know if they’ll bring much value back to China, or contribute anything substantial. Back in the days, people were dedicated either to the reform of or revolution against the Qing dynasty. I don’t know if these kids coming to America have that same will to make changes within today’s China.

  3. Tee

    One thing to note here is that there’s now a perception in China that those who study abroad are those who are not able to compete for a place at a university in the notoriously grueling Gaokao, and this in turn actually affects the career prospects of Chinese students returning from their studies abroad in a negative way. So, rather than being regarded as having real talent/skills, these Chinese students are often considered losers who relied on rich parents to buy them qualifications abroad.

  4. Chris

    High school students going abroad are a mixed bag. There are some outstanding young people with very strong academic skills. Association of Boarding Schools schools generally have fairly high entrance requirements and demand fairly good English. Testing and interviews prior to admission can be quite tough. In Chinese, these students were on track for entry to top Chinese universities. They choose to leave prior to school completion because they and their parents are unhappy with the Chinese schooling system.

    At the bottom end, yes there are some poor performers with lots of money seeking a route out of China and easy access to University.

    In general, the employment market in China is mature enough to distinguish between graduates of global leading universities who have taken their time abroad seriously and those on the make.

    Nothing surprising here.

  5. H.Z.

    Going abroad for college is different from going abroad for graduate schools. You have to pay most of of the expenses to attend colleges abroad which means most of the brightest are unlikely to rich enough to go overseas for colleges.

  6. Rosa

    In my hometown Vancouver B.C., this trend began in the mid-1990s as enormous numbers of affluent Hong Kong and Taiwanese families “immigrated” to Canada in order to give their children and high-schoolers “proper” British-influenced North American education. Relatives, brothers, friends and acquaintances attended the best private high schools in the area. Even those who attended public high schools chose advanced programs such as International Baccalaureate and aggressively pursued national and international academic competitions. I see that the US is now catching this fever (influx of pre-college Chinese students).

    I am actually quite pleased with this trend, if the private schools adhere to high standards and deliver a great educational experience and human-development opportunities to these Chinese youths. Whether or not they “return” to China and whether they will be successful doing that is a whole other story.