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Who Trains the Future?

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posted on 01.10.2021, 20:58 authored by Jacob Feldgoise
U.S. higher education institutions’ (HEIs) ability to attract Chinese students will likely shape the future of U.S. international relations with China, as well as both countries’ economies and innovation enterprises. A substantial literature on international talent flows documents how the supply of foreign students to U.S. schools has changed over time, and the causal implications thereof. However, scholars have primarily focused on understanding the flow of students to U.S. graduate education programs—PhD programs in particular—ignoring the largest group of international students in the United States: undergraduates. In this study, the author leverages data from the Institute of International Education (1997-2018), the Chinese Ministry of Education (1996-2018), and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (2005-2018) to determine the proportion of Chinese undergraduate students enrolled at U.S. HEIs. The author finds that while the proportion of Chinese undergraduate students enrolled at U.S. HEIs (all fields) rose from 2008 to 2017, the proportion of engineering students only rose until 2014, after which it stagnated. In contrast, the proportion of Chinese undergraduate students enrolled in U.S. social science programs increased over the entire period (2008-2017). The causal factors behind the 2008 increase in overall Chinese student enrollment in the U.S. are difficult to determine due to the simultaneous increased affordability of U.S. higher education (due to rising Chinese household incomes and appreciation of the Yuan) and loosening U.S. immigration policies (specifically a U.S. June 2005 extension of Chinese students’ visa validity from six months to one year). Further research is needed to understand why the proportion of Chinese undergraduates enrolled in U.S. engineering programs stagnated while the same proportion for social sciences has continued to rise. Explanations might include field-specific discrepancies with respect to job market access and salaries in China or that students in social sciences are disproportionately attracted to the open academic environment at U.S. HEIs.





Erica Fuchs


Engineering and Public Policy

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