I have just returned from the China Annual Conference for International Education 2011, organized by the China Education Association for International Exchange in Beijing. There were hundreds of participants, including educational leaders and other professionals working in the field of education from all parts of China and many other nations.
The presentations covered many of the crucial issues that will shape the future of education at all levels globally and in China, such as teaching innovation, improving STEM education, vocational and technical education, student mobility, continuing education, and cross-border accreditation. There were also many sessions dedicated to both national and global college rankings, how and why the rankings are done, and their implications for students, parents, colleges, governments, and society as a whole.
I gave a talk on U.S. News's Best Colleges rankings that covered how they started nearly 30 years ago, the impact those rankings have had in the United States in terms of prospective students and on the colleges themselves, and the implications of the rankings for Chinese students.
I also learned some very important things during my brief visit to China:
1. It became very clear that there is a widespread and rapidly growing desire by prospective Chinese students to enroll in U.S. colleges in order to earn both undergraduate or graduate degrees. The interest to attend college in the United States is no longer just among the top Chinese students. It's from students at all levels.
2. The key factors behind this surge in interest to attend U.S. colleges is the rising economic affluence of a growing number of families in China and their strong belief that attending U.S. schools will give them a top-quality education.
3. Chinese enrollment in U.S. colleges is up more than 30 percent in the year ending 2010 from the previous year to nearly 128,000 students, according to the latest figures from the Institute of International Education. China is now the No. 1 country in terms of the number of students coming to U.S. colleges, and experts think the number of students will only increase in the years ahead.
4. It also became very apparent to me that the Chinese consider the U.S. News Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools rankings the No. 1 sources to find out about the rankings of schools in the U.S. and other key information on U.S. colleges.
5. Chinese students and their parents really care about college rankings for many reasons—including that they want to make sure if they go to school in the United States that it is a good school. The top question that is being asked by almost every Chinese student to representatives of U.S. schools in China is: "Where does your school rank in the U.S.?" Our rankings are providing the answer to that question.