Taiwan’s minister of education, Wei-Ling Chiang, traveled to California last week to address a rarely discussed trade imbalance with the United States.
“Just 3,561 American-born students are enrolled in Taiwanese universities, while about 24,000 Taiwanese students enroll in universities in the U.S,” Chiang said. “We really have to address the situation now.”
Concerned about a brain drain, Taiwanese education officials and top public universities are renewing their efforts to enroll more international students. A dozen Taiwanese college information centers have opened in nine countries in the last few years, including a Michigan office in August.
And in the San Gabriel Valley, Taiwan’s university recruiters have begun to target a new demographic: the Taiwanese American teenager.
On Saturday officials held what they said was the first Taiwanese education fair in the U.S., at the Chinese Cultural Center in El Monte. About a thousand people attended, attracted by advertisements in local Chinese language radio and television stations.
Chiang made the case for Taiwan’s universities himself in a welcome speech: A typical undergraduate education costs about $3,000 per year, a tuition set by the government, and living costs are much lower than in the U.S. Several degree programs are taught in English and several professors have degrees from Ivy League institutions.
“Your children will enjoy a high quality education while learning about Taiwan’s culture,” said Chiang, a Stanford graduate.
The pitch was perhaps more attractive to parents of the second- and third-generation Taiwanese American students who were the targets of the enrollment push. They crowded around the table for the prestigious National Taiwan University, peppering an advisor with questions.
“What are the dorms like?” asked one parent.
Their children hung back, thrusting hands deep into jeans pockets and adjusting headphones.
“I’ve never really considered [school in Taiwan] ... but my mom saw the commercials,” said Jasmine Tseng, 22, a student at Cal State Long Beach.
Some parents came even without their children’s cooperation. Hai-long Huang’s daughter already attends a local college, but he wants her to transfer to a Taiwanese university so she can learn more about her heritage.
“She might come in the afternoon,” Huang said, one arm hugging a thick sheaf of pamphlets and brochures to his chest. “I’m just taking these home for her to take a look.”
The idea of a Taiwanese education appealed to parents who believe their children will graduate into a job market increasingly dominated by Asian languages and businesses. For many, the prospect of an American education has lost its shine.
Steven Su ticked off the reasons on his fingers.
“First, financial aid to U.S. colleges is getting really bad. I don’t want my daughters to graduate with a lot of debt and not be able to attend graduate school.”
He also wants them to experience Chinese culture and learn the language. If they study in Taiwan, they can work throughout Asia. And, Su said, recent headlines about the cuts to California’s public education system are frightening. Funding for the state’s community college system has dropped more than a third since 2007. Campuses across the Cal State system are freezing enrollment, and hikes to UC tuition have become a perennial topic.
Max Liu, dean of the international college at Ming Chuan University, said the timing of the fair wasn’t accidental. He wants to double, even triple, the number of American-born students attending his university in the next few years.
“Taiwan needs friends,” Liu said. “We need people to experience the education and culture of Taiwan.”
Janet Shang accompanied her daughter Sandy to the fair. Sandy, a fourth year student at USC studying biology, wants to attend medical school, which in Taiwan costs about $5,000 a year.
“It’s just a Plan B,” said Sandy, clad in an Oxford University sweater. “There’s a lot of competition in America, and in Taiwan we have an advantage because we’re bilingual.”
Janet Shang agreed, but she had her own reasons.
“If she goes to medical school, then I can move back there with her,” Shang said.