CHICAGO (XINHUA) - A growing number of Chinese families are sending their teenage children on college tours overseas, and are creating a potentially lucrative market for universities, college towns and tourism-related businesses, according to a study of the University of Illinois (UI).
In 2013, more than 300,000 young people from China participated in overseas study tours.
As of summer 2015, the number of Chinese teens who travelled abroad on such trips have grown to over 500,000.
Organised by travel agencies and high schools, the two- to four-week trips to the United States and other developed countries typically cost Chinese families US$5,000 to US$8,000 (S$ 6,800 to S$10,900) each.
To learn more about why Chinese teens participate in the tours and the factors that influence families' decisions to send their children on these excursions, UI researchers interviewed 30 Chinese teenagers who had travelled on a group study tour within the prior three years and 20 of their parents.
China's integration into the global economy has given rise to a rapidly growing middle class that is curious about other cultures and perspectives, and eager to expand their children's knowledge beyond the Chinese educational system's test-focused curriculum, the study shows.
The parents interviewed said they hoped that going on such study trips would enrich their children's educational and life experiences, and foster "global perspectives" that would enhance their competitiveness in the job market after college.
The teenagers who were interviewed said they were motivated by a desire to learn about other cultures, to experience the daily life in other countries, and to improve their language skills.
Many Chinese parents sought to fulfill their own dreams by pushing their children to attend colleges in the United States and other countries, which they perceived as being more prestigious than the post-secondary institutions in China.
Among China's well-educated and more prosperous families, the one-child policy and exposure to Western cultural values have produced child-centred families in which the parent-child relationships are more egalitarian than in traditional Chinese culture, the researchers found.
Several teenagers, and some parents, said they hoped the study tours - which were the teenagers' first trips without their parents - would foster greater independence and prepare them for college life, said lead author Joy Huang, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism at UI.
"The teens thought it was important to learn how to socialise and communicate with other people in new environments," she said.
Specific to America, where the itineraries of such study tours used to concentrate on the Ivy League schools and their peers scattered along the East and West coasts of the United States, intense competition for admission and rising tuition costs at such institutions are prompting more Chinese students to shift their attention from the Ivy League colleges to the highly ranked public universities in the Midwest.
"These short-term overseas tours and summer camps are a very important market for the tourist industry in the Midwest," Prof Huang said.
"They are also a very good recruiting tool for universities and a way to 'audition' potential foreign students who usually pay much higher tuition than domestic students."