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Shuli Ren

The College Graduates Too Precious to Work in a Factory

The elevated status of scholarship has created a huge class of young people unwilling to do the manufacturing China needs to stay competitive.

A 2021 commencement ceremony in China.

A 2021 commencement ceremony in China.

Photographer: Getty Images/Getty Images AsiaPac

Is college education an investment or a luxury good? In China, there is now a tug of war between the government and its citizens, with the former trying to change a century-old cultural perception that “of all trades, scholarship rules supreme.”

In both raw numbers and percentages, China is churning out a lot more college graduates than the US. By the Ministry of Education’s own estimates, college enrollment rates for 18-year-olds hit 57.8% last year, a sharp jump from 40% just six years prior. In the US, overall enrollment has been stable at around 40%