In China, Betting It All on a Child in College
“Every time my daughter calls home, she says, ‘I don’t want to continue this,’ ” Mrs. Cao said. “And I say, ‘You’ve got to keep studying to take care of us when we get old’, and she says, ‘That’s too much pressure, I don’t want to think about all that responsibility.’ ”
Ms. Wu dreams of working at a big company, but knows that many graduates end up jobless. “I think I may start my own small company,” she says, while acknowledging she doesn’t have the money or experience to run one.
For a rural parent in China, each year of higher education costs six to 15 months’ labor, and it is hard for children from poor families to get scholarships or other government financial support. A year at the average private university in the United States similarly equals almost a year’s income for the average wage earner, while an in-state public university costs about six months’ pay, but financial aid is generally easier to obtain than in China. Moreover, an American family that spends half its income helping a child through college has more spending power with the other half of its income than a rural Chinese family earning less than $5,000 a year.
It isn’t just the cost of college that burdens Chinese parents. They face many fees associated with sending their children to elementary, middle and high schools. Many parents also hire tutors, so their children can score high enough on entrance exams to get into college. American families that invest heavily in their children’s educations can fall back on Medicare, Social Security and other social programs in their old age. Chinese citizens who bet all of their savings on their children’s educations have far fewer options if their offspring are unable to find a job on graduation.
The experiences of Wu Caoying, whose family The New York Times has tracked for seven years, are a window into the expanding educational opportunities and the financial obstacles faced by families all over China.