International students contribute $17.8 billion to the US economy, through expenditures on tuition and living expenses.
Source: US Dept of Commerce
"They look at an education in the United States as something valuable," said Penny Johnston, the director of international admissions at Franklin & Marshall College. "It is different than the education they would get in China."
Johnston, along with her colleagues, is now traveling to China regularly to learn about geography and culture. "It's only been the last six or seven years that I have been traveling to China but each year I do a little bit more," said Johnston.
Among colleges that do not have a worldwide brand, there is a sense of urgency to get a critical mass of students from China, said John Latting, director of undergraduate admissions at Johns Hopkins University. "There needs to be an effect of building communities of people who have heard of the college," said Latting. In this growing and sometimes chaotic market, though, admissions officers face challenges. High schools and their standards are unknown and a growing number of agents that promise Chinese students placement in US schools have been unreliable and sometimes proven to be fraudulent. Johnston has occasionally asked her current students from China to help her with identifying fake transcripts. "If I ask them specifically to look at a letterhead, signature or a seal that has been stamped, some of them have been able to help me," Johnston said. China is not unique in the world in this aspect, said Latting. "The problem is just so much bigger because the growth is so much faster."