China is spending $250 billion a year to send tens of millions of young people to community colleges and universities, reports the New York Times. China has quadrupled the output of two- and four-year college graduates in the last decade.
The aim is to change the current system, in which a tiny, highly educated elite oversees vast armies of semi-trained factory workers and rural laborers. China wants to move up the development curve by fostering a much more broadly educated public, one that more closely resembles the multifaceted labor forces of the United States and Europe.
Li Shufu, the chairman of the automaker Geely, has opened a university that stresses engineering and science, particularly auto engineering, endowed a liberal arts university and “opened a 5,000-student vocational community college in his hometown, Taizhou, to train skilled blue-collar workers.”
As recently as 1996, only one in six Chinese 17-year-olds graduated from high school. That was the same proportion as in the United States in 1919. Now, three in five young Chinese graduate from high school, matching the United States in the mid-1950s.
China’s community colleges and universities produce eight million graduates a year, compared to three million a year in the U.S., which has about one-fourth the number of people.
Some question the quality of China’s higher education system, notes the Times. Experts say “the growth of classroom slots in higher education has outstripped the supply of qualified professors and instructors.”