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The flood of Chinese students entering universities in the United States is not just improving the students' education and increasing international understanding; it is helping the universities balance their budgets.
Education and training ranks fifth on the list of US services for export, bringing in more than $21 billion a year, according to the commercial services division of the US Department of Commerce.
International students benefit not only the host universities, but also local economies, as students pay for room and board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance, and support for accompanying family members, according to a recent report by the Institute of International Education.
Almost 70 percent of all international students' primary funding, including tuition, comes from sources outside of the US, according to the report.
In November, an estimated 158,000 Chinese students were enrolled in US schools, or about 22 percent of the overall international student population.
One prominent example is the University of Washington, where 18 percent of this semester's freshmen come from overseas, mostly from China, the New York Times reported in February. The overseas students pay three times as much as their in-state counterparts.
"Is there any advantage to our taking a kid from California versus a kid from China? You'd have to convince me, because the world isn't divided the way it used to be," said the university's president Michael K. Young, according to the report.
The average expenditure of a Chinese student paying the full cost of the education is 300,000 to 400,000 yuan ($47,550 to $63,400) per year, or more than 1 million yuan ($158,000) for four years' study, according to one Chinese consultant.
"The tuition and living costs vary from state to state. But generally, Chinese parents deposit at least 500,000 yuan a year into their child's bank account, to ensure that they are able to live comfortably," said Liu Haishan, a consultant at the Shanghai office of the New Oriental Vision Consulting Company.
Since US universities rarely grant scholarships to undergraduates, the parents have to "either be rich, or just wait to send their children to US universities for a doctoral program with a considerable amount of scholarship", Liu said.Wang Jing, a 49-year-old mother in Beijing, is one of many parents who empty their pockets to pay for study abroad.
"I had been regretting that I did not have enough money to pay for my daughter to study as an undergraduate in the US, which had been her dream," Wang said.
Since the program Wang's daughter has enrolled in rarely grants scholarships, Wang and her husband made up their minds to set aside 700,000 yuan until their daughter returns.
Liu Sai, another mother in Beijing, has enrolled her daughter in an international class at the Beijing National Day School for the past two years.
According to Liu, students in her daughter's class don't plan to take the national college entrance exams. Instead, they prepare to study in foreign universities.
"The lectures are totally different from regular high school classes. The textbooks are all written in English, and students select the courses they are interested in," Liu said.
The school charges from 80,000 to 90,000 yuan a year. Including travel, the annual cost is nearly 160,000 yuan. Adding undergraduate and postgraduate tuition, Liu figures her daughter's education will cost around 1.5 million yuan ($237,000).
"Unlike many parents, I am not hoping to regain the money in three or five years by pushing my daughter to find a well-paid job," she said.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 33.3 percent of international students are Chinese.
"If you break the numbers down between undergraduate and graduate, you find 40 percent of our international undergraduate population are Chinese, and 29 percent of our international graduate population are Chinese," said Emilie Dickson, International Admissions Manager at the Office of Admissions and Recruitment.
The university maintains a roster of high school counselors at Chinese high schools and sends periodic e-mails with admissions updates. Also, university staff visits "as many high schools as they can," Dickson said. As the demand surges, more and more public schools are opening special classes for students who are determined to study abroad.
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Luo Wangshu in Beijing contributed to this story.