7k Strong Initiative?

Citing the strategic importance of the U.S.-China relationship, in November 2009, President Barack Obama announced the “100,000 Strong” initiative, a national effort designed to increase dramatically the number and diversify the composition of American students studying in China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially launched the initiative in May 2010 in Beijing. The Chinese government strongly supports the initiative and has already committed 10,000 “Bridge Scholarships” for American students to study in China.

President Obama speaking to students on 16 November 2009 at the Museum of Technology and Science in Shanghai.

The 100K Strong Initiative was announced by President Obama last November and was the focus of Mrs. Obama’s remarks on 19 January 2011 at Howard University on the occasion of President Hu’s state visit to the US.   

As the official announcement explains, the “100,000 Strong” Initiative differs from other programs in that it “relies fully on private-sector philanthropic support to direct funds to existing U.S.-China educational exchange programs that are seeking to expand their programs. Early estimates suggest that at least $68 million will be required to fund this ambitious effort.”  The director of the 100,000 Strong Initiative is Carola McGiffert (100kstrong@state.gov), a Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific.

US Students Abroad

Relatively few US students study abroad and most who do participate in short-term programs.  According to the 2010 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 260,327 students studied abroad for credit during the 2008/09 academic year, compared to 262,416 the previous year, a decline of 0.8%.  (This amounts to a paltry 1.4% of total US higher education enrollment.)  The top five destinations were the UK, Italy, Spain, France and China.  The number of US students who study in Vietnam can be measured in the hundreds, not thousands.   

7,000 Strong Initiative?

Given that Vietnam has clearly become an important strategic priority for the US in recent years, why not launch a similar program that would enable more US students to study in Vietnam?  Since Vietnam’s population is 6.7% of China’s, you could call it the “7,000 Strong” Initiative, which would be roughly 10 times the current number of US students who participate in a study abroad program here. 

In fact, Increasing U.S. Educational Opportunities in Vietnam is one of the three topics of the upcoming 4th Annual Education Conference: Cementing Cooperation & Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-Vietnam Education Partnerships, sponsored by the US Embassy-Hanoi and the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF).  Establishing a Welcoming Environment for U.S. Students is a subtopic.  

The cost would be modest and the benefits long-term and incalculable.  To put things in perspective, one BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile costs a minimum of $1.4 million, roughly two-thirds the value of the annual Fulbright program budget for Vietnam ($2.2 million).  How many scholarships would that fund, leveraged by private sector and, possibly, foundation money?

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