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Survey finds Chinese students drawn to ASU's reputation of quality

ASU student Xiaojie Li on Hayden Lawn
April 07, 2014

Enrollment of students from China is expanding rapidly at Arizona State University, having increased five-fold in the past 10 years. A booming Chinese economy, a worldwide reputation for ASU academic programs and a global movement toward the internationalization of higher education are fueling the trend.

Xiaojie Li, who will receive her master’s degree in higher education from the ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in May, has surveyed Chinese students about their experience at ASU, and found that the most significant factor behind the growth is the quality, or ranking, of the academic programs.

The United States is believed to provide the best education in the world, she says, and many ASU programs are highly ranked. In addition, more middle-class Chinese families can afford to send their children abroad, a factor that has helped boost Chinese enrollment at ASU to 2,497 in fall 2013, almost double the number from fall 2011.

Chinese students also give high consideration to a safe campus, and a city with potential working opportunities in the future. ASU is a very appealing destination on both counts, she says.

Li set her sights on an American degree years ago, though she initially thought she’d study communications. Growing up in Wuhan, China, in Hubei province, the only child of middle-class parents, she worked hard to get good grades, and began studying English in middle school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in film production management in China and worked as a public relations intern for almost a year.

“I found that field wasn’t for me,” she says. “I felt lost and confused. Then I got a job as a student adviser at Tianjin College, University of Science and Technology, and I realized I loved the job, interacting with students and helping them. I started looking for graduate programs in America, to learn about the American system of higher education.”

Her mother had maintained a friendship with Jiping He, a professor of engineering at ASU, since the two were fellow university students. Li met with He, who recommended that she look into ASU. She was impressed with the reputation of ASU, and was attracted by the climate, so she enrolled in fall of 2012.

She says the transition to American culture was difficult at first, but her professors have been very kind and have helped her adapt. She undertook the student survey for her practicum course after contacting Denis Simon, vice provost of the Office of International Strategic Initiatives.

“He responded right away, and he assigned this project to me the very day I met with him,” she says. “While Dr. Simon’s job is creating collaborations at higher levels, with the Chinese government and universities, he also wants to improve the Chinese student experience at ASU.”

Her survey, conducted among 300 students, found that after academic quality and safety, they were most influenced by employment opportunities in the U.S. after graduation, tuition and scholarship, or TA opportunities. The size of the existing population of Chinese students at ASU did not greatly influence their choice of institution, nor did collaborative programs between universities.

Chinese students are seeking overseas education at a younger age, with ASU undergraduates from China outnumbering graduate students for the first time in fall 2012. Almost three-quarters of Chinese students are majoring in engineering or business.

Other survey findings show that 80 percent either enjoy their experience at ASU very much or they like it, and that almost half of Chinese students wish they had had stronger English skills before enrolling. Many find it a challenge to make friends with Americans, but half find it very rewarding to have made many new friends from China.

Li co-presented her work at the ASU-Sichuan University joint conference with Wei Li, ASU professor of Asian Pacific American Studies and Geography. She is now expanding her work as a research assistant with professors Simon and Li, as they conduct data analysis on a new project and write two pieces, one each in English and Chinese.

“Dr. Li has helped me have these presentation and publication experiences, and she sponsored me to travel to China to make the presentation,” says Li. “I would not have had all these experiences if I hadn’t met her.”

Xiaojie Li says Chinese students do tend to stick together at ASU because of the comfort level and the language, but both American and Chinese students could do a better job reaching out to each other. She has always tried to seek acquaintances from both cultures.

With a growing student body of Chinese at ASU, she would like to see the university host more cross-cultural events, and create more joint programs in which American and Chinese students can connect with each other.

“The highlight of my experience at ASU has been making connections, building relationships with people,” she says. “Sometimes you get lucky, and you meet good people who can help you reach your goals.”