Notes from the Land of Cranes

As many of you know, I was away from the friendly confines of Mary Washington for the last two weeks.  I had the opportunity to travel to several cities in Asia: Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Beijing and Dalian.  While there, I met with dozens of agents who in Asia are the primary way students learn of and matriculate to schools in the UK, Australia, and the US.  I also attended several school fairs where I met potential students or their parents.

The first and probably the most important perception I experienced is that there are tons of students who want to study in the US.  I was also briefed by several consular officials who discussed the tremendous demand for student visas and the high rate of approval.  While I was in China the “Open Doors” report was published establishing China as the No. 1 source for international students in the U.S. higher education system.  There is approximately 128,000 students from China studying in the US; the bad news, however, is we are not getting our share.

The most obvious reason for this problem is we are virtually unknown.  My hope is that this trip will begin to improve the situation.  When I explained the type of institution we have (public, liberal arts with small class sizes, close working relationships with faculty, opportunities for research and internships as undergraduates) people began to take notice.  When I explained our ranking, and location — i.e., proximity to D.C. and ease of travel up and down the eastern seaboard (train not I95) — much interest was expressed.

Unexpectedly, I was asked numerous times why our tuition was so low especially compared to the private liberal arts institutions with which we compete.  I am certain that we can attract several highly qualified students from Asia that will help us diversify our campus and improve our global perspective.

It has been three years since I was last in China. One thing that has not changed is the amount of construction occurring in every city I visited.  Huge cranes perched atop skyscraping buildings both residential and office are apparent in every direction.  Just three years ago, there were just a few different makes of automobiles that could be seen on the streets.  Today, I could not name a single car brand that was not creeping along in the overcrowded streets.  On the positive side, the air quality in Beijing was noticeably improved.  I actually saw blue sky for a time there.  It appears that the relocation of steel plants to outside of the city and ban on coal burning has made a difference.

In sum, I am glad to be back in Virginia. While I did not return with noodles or fireworks I hope that my Silk Road path will allow several good students to follow.

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