Over the past decade, the Japanese government has made a big ongoing investment in the future of Japan through several international education initiatives (MEXT, 2016, 2017). The goal of these investments is to internationalize Japanese society and increase Japan's future "global human resources." The initiatives fund a variety of programs in primary and secondary schools for this purpose. Some of this support is designed to encourage study abroad participation, as this is one of the most impactful ways to internationalize contemporary students (Asaoka & Yano 2009; Huang, 2015).
Most of the monies provided through the government/private initiatives, those that are designed to encourage study abroad, go towards the support of new short-term study abroad programs (Porter, Edmond & Ota, 2018). The recent increase in short-term study abroad program participation revealed in recent surveys may be attributed, at least in part, to this government support (Porter, Edmond & Ota, 2018). The degree to which these short-term programs impact a student's ability to gain the global skills that the Japanese Government and the students themselves hope for in making these investments is an open question. I do not intend to address that question in-depth in this article. I assume that these short-term experiences are beneficial and helpful to some degree in developing the global human resources the Japanese government intends to foster. However, the degree to which returning study abroad students have grown through their experience is crucially important. I contend that, while short-term programs can be very beneficial, in order to create truly bicultural and bilingual individuals, longer-term exposure is clearly more impactful.
Through my research and in my review of recently published research (Kobayashi, 2011; Lassegard, 2013; Ota, 2011), I have identified some of the common obstacles to study abroad, as reported by contemporary students. Among these obstacles, the most commonly cited by students is the lack of adequate financial resources. In this article, I will specifically address this obstacle to seeking a degree in the US. I hope to encourage students that are willing to take the risk and make the investment to pursue a degree in the US by providing information regarding how to address this financial obstacle.
Financing a Four-Year Bachelor Degree in the US
The bad news is that studying abroad in the US to earn a degree is expensive. There are many reasons for the high cost of higher education in the US. A recent article in The Atlantic asks "Why is college in America so expensive?" (Ripley, 2018). There are several factors cited in this article for the increasing cost of a US college degree. These include:
- The increase in non-teaching support staff such as advisors and health professionals.
- The decreased support, per-student, by the state and local government.
- The emphasis on rankings, which increases the cost of non-teaching research expenses for universities.
- The growth in the number of students attending college.
- The additional academic support needed to help a large percentage of students that are not "college ready."
- The increased investment in student life facilities, such as recreation centers, modern dormitories, and new student activity centers.
Because of these and other factors, the cost of an undergraduate degree at public universities for US students has increased by over 213% over the past 2 decades (Martin, 2017). For international students who typically have to pay what is called out-of-state tuition and fees, the cost is at least twice the amount that US students have to pay.
The good news is that informed Japanese students can take advantage of some strategies that US students use to address this increase in the cost of a college education. These cost-reducing strategies include:
- Completing the first two years at a community college
- Working on campus to support your education
- Pursue a degree at a less expensive destination/school in the US
- Apply for scholarships from the Japanese government
- Pursuing a dual degree program at a partner university in the US
I will explain each strategy based on my 20 years of experience working as an international office advisor and administrator at US universities.
1) Completing the first two years at a community college - The cost of two-year community colleges is much less than four-year universities. Students from Japan can, consequently, greatly reduce the cost of a four-year degree in the US by taking the first two years at a community college and then transferring to a US institution. These two-year community colleges are very different than the two-year colleges that people in Japan are familiar with. The first two years of a student's four-year degree in the US involves taking a series of general education courses. Students can take these general education courses at a community college at much less expense. Students can then take their major coursework at the university in the final two years of their program. The bachelor diploma issued to the student by the university in these 2+2 programs is the same degree that a student would earn if they attended the university all four years. In many cases, the general education teacher-student ratio at community colleges is much lower than in the same courses at the university. At large universities, general education courses are often presented in large lecture halls with as many as 500 students in attendance. These general education courses at universities are also more likely to be taught by postdoctoral students or graduate assistants rather than regular faculty. These same courses at community college tend to be much smaller and, subsequently, the teachers are able to give much more individual attention to students. These smaller classes can be particularly beneficial to international students that often struggle with language and adjustment to the US education system and need more individualized attention. So, not only is a 2 + 2 education much less expensive, students may also receive a better overall education.
2) Working on campus to support your education - Many American students work on campus during their studies to support themselves. International students are allowed to work part-time on campus also for up to 20 hours per week during the regular semesters and full-time during the summer and winter breaks. These work experiences will not only provide an opportunity for students to earn money but also to practice their English and develop friendships with other domestic and international students. International students can also work off campus during their studies in jobs that are related to their coursework with authorization from their international student counselor. After the completion of a degree, students can also work off campus with authorization from the US government. This authorization, referred to as Optional Practical Training (OPT), can last from 12 months to 36 months, depending upon the degree program students have completed. Students work with their international student counselors to prepare these applications and send them to the US government toward the end of their degree program. When they are approved, they will receive an OPT work card in the mail that they can present to employers. This work experience can make students more attractive to employers in Japan or internationally. There are even Japanese companies in the US that may be willing to hire a student directly out of a degree program once they receive this OPT work authorization.
3) Pursue a degree at a less expensive destination/school in the US - Students should consider non-traditional locations that are less expensive than schools in places such as California and New York. A majority of Japanese students congregate on either the Western or Eastern coast of the US. However, there are excellent universities spread out across the US and these schools are often less expensive than schools on the East and West Coasts. In addition, in many cases, the cost of living where these schools are located is much less.
I grew up and went to school in California but have worked in a variety of states around the US. Many Japanese choose to go to school in California but this is primarily because of familiarity. Much of my professional administrative experience has been in Texas and I earned my doctoral degree here in Texas, so I will use Texas as an example of alternate destinations. Here are some advantages of studying in Texas rather than California.
- Texas has some of the highest-ranking public and private schools in the US (e.g., Rice University, The University of Texas).
- The cost of living in Texas cities is typically much less than cities on the East and West coasts.
- The cost of international flights from/to major airports in Texas are not much more expensive than flights from the East and West Coasts. There are many direct flights from Tokyo to Texas hubs such as Dallas and Houston.
- Many large Japanese corporations are relocating to Texas. The most prominent example is Toyota, which moved its North American Headquarters from California to Texas in 2016. So, there may be future employment opportunities for Japanese students in Texas.
- If you attend a community college (CC) as an international student anywhere in the US and do well, Texas public universities offer $1,000 CC transfer scholarships. These $1,000 scholarships that are given to also qualify students (including international students) to pay resident or in-state tuition for up to 2 years.
The difference in tuition and fees can make the biggest difference in the cost of a earning a 4-year bachelor degree. Below is a table using the tuition and fees at a community college near Houston and the current tuition rate at my school, Texas Tech University (TTU).
|2+2 (2 years at community college + 2 years at university)||4 years at university|
|International students tuition and fees||Regular tuition and fees for international students at a community college in Texas (a)|
Tuition and fees for international students with a $1,000 community college transfer scholarship (renewable for 2 years) and in-state tuition at TTU. (b)
|Regular out-of-state tuition and fees for international students at TTU|
|Tuition and fees for two different options||a. $4,740 x 2 years = $9, 980 |
b. $7,860 x 2 years = $15,720
|$18,652 x 4 years|
Texas is just one example of the financial advantages for Japanese to pursue degrees at schools in non-traditional destinations.
4) Apply for Scholarships from the Japanese government - Most of the support for students provided through the current government initiatives (primarily through the Tobitate Scholarship) is awarded for short-term programs. However, students should not assume that such scholarships for degree seeking programs are unavailable or too competitive for them. I assume that some scholarships for longer-term graduate and undergraduate programs do not receive as many applications as students may assume since the trend among contemporary students is to participate in short-term programs. I have personally met students at TTU from Japan that applied for Tobitate scholarships for graduate programs and were surprised to find out that they were competing with relatively few applicants. Subsequently, students who desire to go against this strong trend towards short programs and pursue a degree may find that there is support available.
5) Pursuing a dual degree program at a partner university in the US - According to U.S. News and World Report and the New York Times, dual degree programs in the US are on the rise. An international dual degree program is a study program collaboratively offered by a US university and a Japanese university leading to the awarding of a US university degree and a degree from the Japanese university. Students that participate in these programs (typically two years at the Japanese university and two years at the US institution), subsequently, spend less on US tuition and fees. This is another way for undergraduate students to earn a less expensive degree from a US university. Just a few examples of current dual degree programs between US and Japanese universities includes:
- Degrees in Anthropology at Illinois State University and Nihon University
- A variety of degrees at the University of Albany and Kansai Gaidai University
- Bachelor of Social Science and Bachelor of Art degree at St. Edwards University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
- A law degree at the University of Washington and Keio University (a graduate degree)
Doing a Graduate Degree in the US on a Teaching or Research Assistantship
Another option for students is to complete an undergraduate degree in Japan and then go on to seek a graduate degree in the US. Many people in Japan are not aware of the opportunity to complete a relatively inexpensive graduate degree in the US. Many of the 128,250 graduate students from China who attended US universities in 2017 (IIE, 2017), for example, were actually paid to go to school at US universities. This is possible because many graduate schools in the US have paid positions available to students. These positions are referred to as teaching or research assistantships. My wife, a Japanese national, for example worked as a teaching and research assistant during her doctoral studies at the University of Missouri. That assistantship provided a small salary and a tuition and fee waiver. She completed a PhD program, as a result, with no debt. So, students who would like to study in the US but cannot find a way to finance an undergraduate degree may be able to get a position as a research or teaching assistant at a university and earn a graduate degree. If a student cannot get an assistantship before they begin their graduate program, they can often successfully apply for these positions after they begin their program and meet a professor that can support them in this way. Students may also apply for a scholarship from the Japanese government to further defray the expense of earning a graduate degree in the US.
Obtaining a Graduate Student Scholarship from a US Institution
In general, there are more scholarships available for international students at US institutions for graduate programs than for undergraduate programs (the CC transfer scholarship discussed earlier is an exception). These scholarships are offered by individual departments as well as the graduate admissions offices at US universities and are designed to attract qualified graduate students. When applying for graduate schools, students need to look for these opportunities. To use Texas as an example again, graduate international students (like undergraduate students that receive a CC transfer scholarship) who receive a competitive scholarship of over $1,000 also qualify for in-state tuition rates. This is another option to decrease the cost of a graduate degree for those who are unable to find a teaching or research assistant position.
Summary or Final Remarks
Lack of finances is just one of the primary obstacles that Japanese students face in pursuing a degree in the US. Another prominent obstacle that contemporary students site is the lack of English competencies and subsequent concerns regarding whether they can be admitted or succeed in their attempt to earn a US degree. In my next article, I will discuss how Japanese students can overcome this obstacle and receive the support they will need to succeed academically at a US institution.
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- Asaoka, T., & Yano, J. (2009). The contribution of "study abroad" programs to Japanese internationalization. Journal of Studies in International Education, 13, 174-188. doi:10.1177/1028315308330848
- Huang, F. (2015). The internationalization of Japan's academy across research and non-research universities. Journal of Studies in International Education, 19, 379-393. doi: 10.1177/1028315315574102
- Institute for International Education (2017). Open door. Retrieved from https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors
- Kobayashi, A. (2011). Nihonjin gakusei no kaigai ryugaku sogai yoin to kongo no taisaku (Obstacles of Japanese students who study abroad and future strategies). Ryugaku Koryu (Foreign Exchange), 2, 1-11.
- Lassegard, J. P. (2013). Student perspectives on international education: An examination into the trend of Japanese studying abroad. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 33 (4), 365-379.
- Martin, E. (2017, November 29). Here's how much more expensive it is for you to go to college than it was for your parents. CNBC Make it. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/how-much-college-tuition-has-increased-from-1988-to-2018.html
- MEXT (2016). Support for internationalization of universities. Retrieved from http://www.mext.go.jp/en/policy/education/highered/title02/detail02/1373875.htm
- MEXT (2017). Nihonjin no kaigairyugakujyoukyou [Conditions of Japanese students studying abroad]. Retrieved from http://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/koutou/ryugaku/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2017/12/27/1345878_02.pdf
- Ota, H. (2011). Why students are staying away from study abroad. Education and Medical Science, 59(1), 68-76.
- Porter, R., Edomond, R. & Ota, H. (2018, May). Recruiting students from Japan: Current opportunities and challenges. Session conducted at the meeting of the Association of International Educators, Philadelphia, PA.
- Ripley, A. (2018, September 11). Why is College in America So Expensive? The outrageous price of a US degree is unique in the world..The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/09/why-is-college-so-expensive-in-america/569884/