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The Price of Academic Success

By Walt Gardner — December 15, 2017 1 min read

By now, the overall performance of Asian students in school is well known. But there is another side of the story that merits further attention. I’m referring specifically to the 329,000 Chinese students from abroad who are enrolled in colleges and universities here (“Chinese, Studying in America, and Struggling,” The New York Times, Dec. 12).

Despite their impressive grades, they pay a high price. According to a survey released by Yale researchers in 2013, 45 percent suffered from depression and 29 percent from anxiety. This compares with 13 percent for both ailments among the general population in American universities. I realize that Asians are no more a monolith than any other group. But I think the combination of cultural differences and language barriers, coupled with their desire not to let down their working-class parents who make huge financial sacrifices, makes their situation highly unusual.

The fundamental question is whether their academic achievement is worth endangering their physical and mental health. For example, the Center for China and Globilization, a Beijing-based think tank, found that 80.5 percent of these students who return home make less than $1,500 a month. This is only a bit higher than what graduates of mainland colleges make. Equally important are the long-term effects. Theirs is a pyhrric victory. They win the battle, but they lose the war. I don’t think what they achieve is worth the price. But that’s something only they and their parents can decide.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.