The number of Chinese students enrolled at Cornell has more than doubled in the past four years, rising from 401 in 2006 to 835 in 2010, according to a report from the University’s International Students and Scholars Office.
This change is most likely a result of an growing Chinese economy, according to Brendan O’Brien, director of the ISSO.
Although more undergraduate and graduate students are coming from China, the increasing figures “have probably been going up much more quickly in terms of percentage on the undergraduate level,” O’Brien said.
He attributed previously low numbers of Chinese students to a lack of available financial aid. With the changing economy, overseas education is now more feasible for Chinese families, O’Brien said.
“In years past, we didn’t have a lot of Chinese undergraduates, because generally, there’s relatively little financial aid available for undergraduates,” he said. “So, not that many families in China were able to send their children to school in the U.S. But that has changed … there’s now more students who are in a better position for study at Cornell than in the past.”
Wei Quan grad, president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, agreed that the economy has played a significant role in the larger number of Chinese students on campus.
“One reason for this change is definitely the increasing wealth of some Chinese citizens,” he said. “Previously, five to 10 years ago, they could not afford to send their children here for degrees.”
Pauline Li ’12, president of the Mainland China Student Association, said globalization has also affected Cornell’s growing Chinese population.
“People in China can get more information through the Internet and other access points to learn more about the college system in the States, because it’s a different one than the system in China,” she said. “It’s more flexible — you can study what you want. It’s more attractive to Chinese students to come to the States.”
Most Chinese students have also received a strong secondary education, according to Quan.
“They are now better prepared, especially in terms of memorization of facts,” he said. “Given the population of China, it is not surprising to see this increase. I went to undergrad in the U.K., and the numbers [of Chinese students] there is far greater than what you see here.”
O’Brien echoed these sentiments.
“There are more Chinese students who are prepared for education in the U.S.,” he said. “The language skills of the Chinese students have definitely improved dramatically.”Drawing from personal experience, Quan said he’s seen a notable increase in Chinese students during his time at Cornell.
“From my experience working with [the Chinese Students and Scholars Association], in the beginning, the number of Chinese students might have been in the single digits,” he said. “In years after, that number rose to 20 and 30 and even higher.”
O’Brien said the change has positively affected the University.
“The Chinese students and all the international students make a great contribution to our campus,” he said. “I think that the world is just becoming more and more interconnected. I think that having a very diverse student body at Cornell helps all the students be prepared for the work environment upon graduation.”
Quan said he worried that Chinese students would not integrate with the rest of the student body.
“It has its pros and its cons,” he said. “As the numbers increase, yes, you see more diversity. But these students are more inclined to stick with their own group, and I think that that’s a result of cultural background.”
O’Brien said he was unsure if the trend will continue.
“There’s not a specific quota for how many students from China will come to Cornell,” he said. “But they’re becoming a larger portion of our international student body, no doubt about it.”
Li, on the other hand, said she believed that the upward pattern will continue.
“People are more open-minded and want to send their children to the States for a college education,” she said. “They want to expose their children to the Western culture, and we’ll probably see more Chinese students next year as a result.”