Chinese Student Enrollment Continues to Rise at SAIC and Across the USA
For the first time in the history of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), enrollment from Chinese students overtook enrollment from South Korea, a student population which had previously been the school’s largest international demographic. But these figures raise a larger question. What makes a US education, and an education at an art school like SAIC, so appealing to international students? Currently there is more international enrollment at US universities than in any other country across the globe. Among these enrollments, the percentage of Chinese students is highest. Countless news media outlets like the Chronicle of Higher Education and organizations like the US nonprofit Institute of International Education (IIE) have noted over the past four years the number of students from mainland China enrolling in US institutions is rapidly increasing each year. IIE statistics show the steady growth of student enrollment from China in the US has, since 2009/2010, consistently outpaced international undergraduate and graduate enrollment rates from all other countries, even offsetting those of India and South Korea. The demographics of incoming international students at SAIC have also significantly shifted at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Rose Milkowski, SAIC’s Vice President of Enrollment Management, said out of 2013’s incoming class of nearly 230 international undergraduate and graduate students, roughly 123 are from China, while nearly 98 hail from South Korea. David Murray, Assistant Director of International Affairs noted this shift does not come as a great surprise. In his view, enrollment levels between China and South Korea at SAIC have been close for some time, though “over the last three years … I first saw something like 35 students from China. The next year it was double that and then this year it hasn’t doubled, but it has gone up by a greater amount.” Research that was part of IIE’s “Open Doors” program reflects this. Of the 723,277 international students enrolled in US universities for the 2010/2011 academic year, 22% of these students were from mainland China. The following year this increased to 25%. Students from China now make up over a quarter of the international student population at US universities. On the other hand, South Korean enrollment has significantly dropped, which may be due to the fact that the nation has one of the world’s lowest birthrates. In 2010 it was 1.2%. This is expected to reduce the amount of students entering secondary education significantly. Education Minister Lee Ju-ho has said this may lead to a 40% drop in South Korean university enrollment over the next 12 years. It is expected that this will affect South Korean enrollment at SAIC as well. “If you look at trends of birth rates in South Korea, you will notice that the number of high school graduates is declining,” said Milkowski. “It’s something that everyone is aware of, but we will continue to recruit in Korea.” “The number of Chinese students has continued to grow proportionally, and that’s a world-wide thing,” said Milkowski. “China is starting to send more students out to other countries, and [SAIC has] seen an increase, as have other universities and institutions across the US.” Many observers insist this increase is due to a variety of factors. US-China Today relates it to the competitive nature of the the National Higher Education Entrance Examination or Gao Kao (高考), coupled with undeniably low admission rates for top universities within China. Marketing Manager Shaun Rein claimed in Forbes that US education has become desirable for Chinese students in contrast to what he perceives to be Chinese universities’ over-valuing of rote memorization as a learning skill. But these are speculations. SAIC administrators observe that nuanced and much more specific factors are influencing enrollment by students from mainland China.