CHINESE AND OTHER international students are flocking to US colleges, including two campuses of the University of Massachusetts. 

UMass Boston, viewed locally as primarily a commuter school, saw its number of international students rise 38 percent during the last school year to 929, or about 6 percent of the campus population and more than a third of all out-of-state students. Nearly half of the international students at UMass Boston are Chinese. At UMass Lowell, the number of international students rose 18 percent to 534, with a heavy influx of Chinese. The student body overall at the two campuses grew less than 5 percent last year.

Both UMass campuses say the number of international students should increase dramatically again this year, although official numbers have not been released yet. Nationally, the numbers are also on the rise. The Institute of International Education says the number of international students at US universities increased 5 percent to 723,000 between 2009 and 2010. The number of Chinese students rose 23 percent over that same period, reaching 157,000.

Allan Guo, executive director of the UMass China Institute, says Chinese students are seeking out US colleges because they believe an American education will help them land jobs at home. He says a strong middle class has emerged in China over the last 30 years and parents there are going to great lengths to help their children succeed.

“Education is pretty much everything,” he says. “To take this experience back to China, it gives them a leg up.”

The numbers of Chinese students are up at the two UMass campuses partly because of a preparatory program in Marlborough that is run by a company called CERNET, which is owned by the Chinese government, and staffed by UMass faculty. The Massachusetts International Academy offers English-language training and also works to familiarize the students with American culture. Students pay nearly $40,000 for the year-long intensive program before starting as freshmen at the UMass campuses. The program, which started with 43 students in 2009, quickly grew to capacity at around 250 students, according to principal Brenda Finn.

For the UMass campuses, Chinese and other international students are welcomed because they diversify the student body and pay out-of-state tuition rates. Out-of-state tuition and fees at UMass Boston totaled nearly $25,000 last year, far more than the $11,400 in-state rate. At home, Guo says, Chinese students would pay tuition of $3,000 to $4,000 to attend universities heavily subsidized by the government.

Officials at UMass Boston say they are trying to ‘internationalize’ the campus to both give students more exposure to other cultures and heighten the university system’s profile around the globe. “It’s part of our plan for overall enrollment growth,” says Kathleen Teehan, vice chancellor for Enrollment Management at UMass Boston. “We believe that a global experience is an important part of our students’ education.”

Ahmed Abdelal, Provost of UMass Lowell, says he thinks increasing the numbers of international students on campus is good for all students. “The students that graduate from UMass really need to be globally prepared,” he says.

Serena Wang, 26, a 2010 graduate of UMass Boston from northern China who now works in the admissions office, participated in a bridge program based at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Wang, a native Mandarin speaker, helps to review applicants from China for the preparatory program in Marlborough. Now fluent in English, she says she took English-as-a-second-language courses at Tsinghua before coming to UMass Boston. The school’s partnership with UMass Boston was part of the reason she opted to apply. “Before I came to UMass Boston as an undergrad, I studied ESL. And then that program has a partnership with UMass Boston. That’s the initial reason I chose [UMass],” she says.

Wang says her parents’ influence was a big part of her decision to study in the US. “My parents always wanted me to study abroad. Even when I was in high school, before the national entrance examination in China, they planned to send me to study abroad,” she says.