This morning’s read of the Sunday New York Times started with Keith Bradsher’s “In China, Families Bet It All on College for Their Children.” Bradsher’s article highlights the sacrifices families make to send their children to college. Wu Yiebing and Cao Weiping have forgone vacations, trips to see family, and many material comforts to pay for their daughter to attend college.
At the same time, the structure of Chinese higher education is stacked against them and their daughter. Prestigious universities favor urban elites able to afford English education, a critical gateway skill. The government subsidizes education in the selective universities at the expense of other institutions, making them less expensive than the polytechnic alternatives. Bradsher says that the three-year polytechnics resemble our own community colleges, with more of a vocational focus and less general education options.
Alongside her parents’ sacrifices, daughter Wu Caoying is ambivalent about her college experience, both because of the pressures her family’s expectations have placed on her, as well as the uncertain job prospects available upon graduation.
The article provides a multi-layered understanding of the many forces at work in China that influence who gets to take advantage of higher education opportunities. Selective, elite institutions are favored over more accessible options. While not as dramatic as China, our own state’s methods of allocating Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grants favor four-year students over community college attendees. In addition, the research subsidies to universities through government funding provide a subsidy to selective institutions. Even with the large subsidies provided to major research universities, tuition there can cost five to ten times the tuition of community colleges. All governments make choices in education that reflect their priorities. Bradsher’s article not only gives insight into the choices of China’s government, but raises interesting question about the United States’ priorities.