What the U.S. Might Learn from China's Push to Get Kids to College

Parents take photos of students after they finished their national college exams outside a high school in Beijing, Friday, June 8, 2012. About 9.15 million students throughout China take the annual college entrance exams on Thursday and Friday, according to the Ministry of Education. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan) (National Journal)

Two stories about education reform elsewhere — namely a lengthy piece by The New York Times about China and an Associated Press report from Mexico (with gallery) are worth considering in light of similar efforts in the U.S.

In China, one challenge in educating more people is overcoming regional prejudices in a society that favors urban dwellers over rural residents, and elevating a new generation to college from poorer communities. It is a plight in the U.S. similar to blacks in recent decades and the forthcoming generation of ascendant immigrants looking to attain college educations.

In nearly 3,500 words, Keith Bradsher recounts his visit to Sanya, a coastal city of nearly 700,000 in the southern Hainan province, in a Times' series exploring educational change in China.

After reading the piece, University of Southern California journalism student Megan O'Neil tweeted, "The global higher education race is on."

Added Hannah Seligson, a Times contributor on innovation and Millenials, and the author of Mission: Adulthood: How the 20-Somethings of Today Are Transforming Work, Love, and Life: "Chinese see value in investing hundreds of billions in higher ed. Why don't we?"

Among the more than 200 comments, the discussion includes a comparison with Australia and a New Jersey reader, Nobrun, who writes, "Smart move by China. When U.S.'s Harvard educated president talks about investment in human capital it's labeled what, 'socialist spending'? Watch and learn America. Watch and learn."

Among numbers and factoids in the Times' article:

$250 billion  Writes Bradsher: "China is making a $250 billion-a-year investment in what economists call human capital. Just as the United States helped build a white-collar middle class in the late 1940s and early 1950s by using the G.I. Bill to help educate millions of World War II veterans, the Chinese government is using large subsidies to educate tens of millions of young people as they move from farms to cities."

8 million vs. 3 million  Number of college grads China produces each year compared to the U.S., although China's population is four times larger. China now confers four times as many degrees each year as it did 10 years ago.

2,409 vs. 6,742  Number of colleges (doubled in a decade) that China has for its population of 1.3 billion compared to U.S. degree-granting institutions for its population of 315.1 million.

195 million vs. 120 million Expected number of Chinese who will have completed community college or university by 2020, compared to the estimated number of Americans.

$1,000 vs. $8,655 Annual tuition of Chinese and U.S. public universities. For Chinese families looking for ways to finance their child's way to college, a factory worker earns about $500 a month; in the U.S., the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour equates to about $1,160 a month. China's private colleges cost about $2,000; in the U.S., they average $29,056, according to a CNN Money story, citing College Board figures. Room and board costs are separate.

Engineering The most popular major in China; in the U.S., it's business (as indicated by a Scientific American chart of undergraduate degrees).

$300 Approximate monthly salary of many Chinese professors, creating a dearth of educators in subjects like engineering, given that a factory engineering job in China might earn 40 percent more each month. In the U.S. the similar correlation is that industry jobs in science and engineering can command much more than in academe. According to a its annual salary survey, the Chronicle of Higher Education said the average U.S. professor earns $82,556; a 2011 report of technology salaries shows mid-career engineers at Google and Microsoft average $141,000 and $127,000 respectively.