Despite the troubled economic times and the rise in public tuition, more students from other countries are making their way to the U.S. – and UC Davis – for an undergraduate degree.
According to a recent Open Doors survey by the Institute of International Education, the U.S. experienced a 3 percent increase of 690,923 international students. Along with the rest of the country, UC Davis experienced a 5 percent increase of 2,346 international students fall 2009.
“We’ve had a constant increase, but it’s been a slow growth over the years,” said Wesley Young, director of the Services for International Students and Scholars at UC Davis.
The survey reported China, India, South Korea, Canada and Taiwan as the top five countries to send students to the U.S. for higher education during the 2009-2010 school year. Together, those five nations make up 52 percent of all international students in the country. China alone had a 30 percent increase in enrollments.
Similarly, Young estimated that China contributes 35 percent of all the international degree-seeking students at UC Davis for fall 2010.
“In the last four, maybe five years, the U.S. has seen an increase in Chinese students coming for an undergraduate degree,” he said. “We have seen the same thing [at Davis].”
Young said the increase in China’s middle class combined with the growing demand for higher education and the lack of universities able to meet the demand in China, contributed to the growing number of Chinese undergraduates not only in the nation, but at Davis as well.
Emily Zhang, a junior economics major, decided to move to California from China to pursue her undergraduate degree.
“The first reason [for the move] was the quality of education in the U.S. and the second for diversity,” she said. “In the U.S. you can learn from a variety of cultures, and the students here are more active and more creative.”
The combination of the growing demand for higher education and greater financial capabilities has increased the opportunities for Chinese students.
“I would expect the number of Chinese undergraduates to grow in the future,” Young said.
Contrary to the number of students choosing to come to the U.S. to study, the number of American students deciding to study abroad has decreased in the last couple of years.
UC Davis also experienced fewer students deciding to study abroad last year.
“We attribute it mostly to the economy, but in large part to the increase in UC tuition,” said Zachary Frieders, assistant director of the Education Abroad Center (EAC).
However, the number of UC Davis students studying abroad in the 2009-2010 school year only decreased by 1.25 percent.
“The fact that we have more or less remained flat in our enrollment, given what has been going on, we actually see as a strong testament to the value of studying abroad,” Frieders said.
Even though UC Davis has experienced fewer students deciding to study abroad, more students are opting to travel to non-traditional countries.
“While Western Europe is by far the most popular destination, we have seen a growth in the non-traditional countries,” Frieders said. “We have seen a lot more interest in South America, the Middle East and Asian countries.”
Peru, South Korea and Chile are all examples of non-traditional countries that have experienced a growing interest from students, according to the Open Doors survey. The interest for these countries went up 32 percent, 29 percent and 28 percent in 2009-2010, respectively.
Nadine Custis, a senior international relations and Spanish double major, traveled to Chile in 2009.
“The main priority was to sharpen my Spanish skills and I felt like learning it in a classroom wasn’t sufficient for learning a language,” she said. “I chose Chile over other places because I didn’t think I would have the chance to go to South America later on in life.”
Custis was able to complete a good portion of her course work for her Spanish major while studying in Chile.
“In terms of academics it can be really practical,” she said. “Then the whole package of being somewhere else, being self-sufficient and having everything that is familiar just kind of stripped away really makes you think about who you are, what your goals are and where you’re going.”
The EAC offers several opportunities for students to study abroad. Taking your financial aid and studies on location is a worthwhile endeavor, Frieders said.
“Looking at jobs and grad school now, it’s not enough just to have a degree. Studying abroad is another part of your portfolio that can set you apart from other graduates,” he said.
Custis encourages other students to study abroad if possible.
“I think it’s an important part of your experience both as a college student and as a young person to have something like this, because after graduating from college, being able to contribute back to society is going to be based on more than what you learn in the classroom,” she said.
MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.