Chinese warning about study abroad could hurt Kansas universities

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The latest salvo in the U.S. trade war with China could cost Kansans millions of dollars every year.  The Washington Post reports China Monday warned students to beware of the risks of attending college in the United States.

Fai Tai came to Wichita State for a degree more than a decade ago.  She ended up staying here.

"I am very fortunate," she said.  "After I graduated, I got to work at this university."

She now helps bring other international students to WSU, working out of the university's International Student Center.

Each international student is a financial boon to the school.  According to the university's website, international students pay about  50% more than local students.  

This holds true for Kansas State University and the University of Kansas as well.  That adds up to more than $61 million Chinese students alone bring to the three schools in tuition and fees, room and board, and books (WSU $1.1 million, KSU $19.4 million, KU $40.7 million) .  They spend even more money in town.

"A foreign student going to an American university is an export," said Karyn Page, president of Kansas Global Trade Services.  "If they're being discouraged in any way from coming to American to get their education, that means we export less, which means we have less revenue."

At Kansas Global Trade Services, Page spends a lot of time helping companies navigate the waters of international business.  That includes education. She says in China sending students to the U.S. for college is a big part of the culture.

"They want their kids to study abroad," Page explained.  "So they'll save for their entire lifetime, even before they have children.  So when they get married, they start immediately saving for their kids' education."

Page believes it will take more than a single warning to stop Chinese students from coming to America.

"I think the Chinese are more likely to listen to their government, for obvious reasons.  But one message won't change their entire culture," she said.

Tai believes the ongoing trade war is more likely to play a role in changing attendance pattern.  From Fall 2017 to Fall 2018 WSU saw a 45% drop in students from China.

"I think it started from when the Trump administration came on board," she said.  "All around the world, international students that came to the U.S., the number has come down quite a bit."

Wichita State has a much smaller contingent of Chinese students compared to the other two schools.  But, Chinese students are the largest group of international students at K-State and KU.  While both saw enrollment drops over the last year, 17% at KSU and 7% at KU, they could also lost tens of millions of dollars if they suddenly saw an enrollment drop like WSU's or larger.

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