Last week, I read a really interesting article by Gordon Orr, the Chairman of Asia at McKinsey and Company. In it, he described how China has a rising class of what he called “Generation 2” consumers: young people born in the 1980s who have a certain expectation of material comfort. This stands in contrast to their parents, who as young people may have lived through through economic and political turmoil, but who certainly experienced financial upheavals as China’s economy transitioned from state-dominated to managed capitalism.

The children of this new middle class haven’t had the same experiences. They may not have been born directly into comfort, but as they aged and the middle class solidified, most of their experience has been one of having the ideal goods and technology for a comfortable life. It isn’t an exact parallel, but think of the relationship between children of the Depression and their Boomer progeny.

One of the reasons this isn’t a 1:1 analogy is that in the 1960s America’s economy was still growing at a rapid rate, and wouldn’t really experience a shock until the ’70s. But even then, there were jobs and opportunities, and it was hard to slide into poverty. This might not be the case in China. There is an argument as to whether or not the Chinese economy is slowing down, but as Orr argued, it will be very difficult for it to create enough jobs to keep this new middle class in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. There are a lot of political ramifications of this, but for our purposes, I want to look at how this can affect a school looking to attract students from China. In this global economy, long-term macroeconomic trends can reverberate around the world, including the halls of your school.

Chinese high schoolers

Chin’a new middle class is looking for good jobs that reflect their upbringing. Your school can help deliver that.
Image from Flickr user snap, snap

China’s Sobering Employment Statistics

There are arguments to make, but more startling are the numbers, in black and white. From Orr:

If they hope to make their entry into the middle class, today’s graduates will need to find well-paying jobs. For a growing number, however, this goal is becoming increasingly elusive. There are signs that this problem is rapidly becoming a serious one. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 17.6% of newly minted graduates were reported to be unemployed in September 2013. In the segment of graduates aged 20 to 29 in 2013, 12.5% were unemployed[2]. Universities themselves report that only 50% of their students are finding a job before graduation, and a survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences/Mycos shows that nearly half of all graduates feel they are underemployed versus their potential and expectations.

Chinese students are looking to find not just jobs, but well-paying jobs. It is very possible that if this trend continues, there will be a cultural adjustment of expectations and the middle class will no longer expect to continue in their lifestyle, but for now that is not the case. As long as nearly 50% feel they are underemployed, there will be opportunities for schools looking to attract international students.

The benefits of international education

We’ve talked about how China’s wealthy are sending their children to study abroad, but the middle class also creates a huge target of opportunity for your school. After all, if students have their sights set above a job from a vocational school, there are few better ways to achieve that than to have an international education.  

Besides strength, the thrust of China’s economic rise over the last generation has been one of integration with the world. China, like every other country, has gone through periods of isolation, but this is clearly not one of them.

And this is where the smart director of an international program can seize an opportunity. Catering your recruitment to the middle class opens up a huge new market, which is simultaneously flexing their new economic strength and worrying about whether or not those muscles will atrophy.  You can help ease that worry.

By letting them know the enormous benefits of studying in America- language skills, an increase in cultural comfort, a first-hand lesson on global economics, and feeling more assured of oneself in challenging situations- you can prepare the middle class to perpetuate itself, and even to keep climbing the ladder. Middle class Chinese parents want to know that the fruit borne of their struggles will last more than a generation, and their children want to be able to maintain and even better the lifestyle they were born into. Studying in America is a great way to do that. Paying attention to developments in China is the only way to keep your finger on the pulse, and if you do, you can craft your international student recruitment message to fit into the vision of the future this generation has for itself.


The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.