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Applications from China are on the rise

Professor John Anthony, left, and Bisen Li '13, right.
Professor John Anthony, left, and Bisen Li '13, right.

Binsen Li '13 assumes he would have an easier time getting through school if he'd stayed in China, but he doesn't regret his decision to enroll at Connecticut College. That's because Li knows he is experiencing something it would be almost impossible for him to replicate in China - a broad education in the liberal arts and sciences.

"My father read about how lots of Chinese kids were going to school in the U.S., and then he started to read books about the American educational system," Li said. "He thinks this education will benefit me a long time because it is a life-long education."

Students like Li are coming to the same conclusion in increasing numbers, thanks in part to the recruiting efforts at Connecticut College and other U.S. schools, according to Scott Alexander, the associate director of admission and coordinator of international admission at the College. "China's economy has blossomed, and because of that it's making a private liberal arts education more accessible to students in China," Alexander said.

"One of the best exports the U.S. has is our education," Alexander said. "It is still highly valued, and in a culture where there are 1.4 billion people, families are looking for other educational opportunities so they can provide their one child a leg up on the competition."

The numbers speak for themselves. At Connecticut College, there were 20 applicants from China for the Class of 2004, Alexander said, compared to 107 Chinese applicants for the most recent class of 2014. This represents a 230 percent increase, he said.

"At one time we had more applicants from Bulgaria than the state of Vermont," Alexander said. "Now China is the new Bulgaria."

The same surge is happening nationally, according to the Open Doors report, which is published by the Institute of International Education. The report tracked enrollment numbers from the 2008-09 academic year and revealed that China is second only to India in the number of students it is sending to American universities. Members of the Connecticut College admissions staff will make three trips to China this year alone and conduct additional interviews with Chinese students via Skype this winter, said Alexander.

The College has long had a commitment to an internationalized campus, offering a study abroad program, a varied curriculum and a strong recruitment effort around the globe, visiting anywhere from 10 to 18 countries each year.

"The College believes providing students with diverse opportunities will better prepare them for life after college," Alexander said. "And with the decline of high school graduates in the Northeast one way for the college to remain competitive is to recruit oversees."

While there are challenges for both sides when recruiting students from China, administrators and students said the payoff is huge for both the school and its students.

"I learned a critical way of thinking," said Nick Peng '10, who is now at Princeton pursuing a PhD in geosciences.

- Elizabeth Hamilton

December 23, 2010