Education Is Leading Asian Export

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Asia, led by China, is making an epic dash into the future. Beijing is preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games. Japan is the world's second-largest economy. This year looks good for economic growth in Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. Singapore is about to gain a free trade agreement with the United States.

Yet hundreds of thousands of young people leave the region each year, and tens of thousands want to join them. These men and women are not fleeing persecution. They are pursuing one of our fastest-growing yet overlooked exports, U.S. college and university education.

According to the U.S. government, American higher education is a $12 billion to $14 billion export yearly. Many in direct marketing are overlooking this, and it is a mistake.

The 2,500 U.S. colleges and universities need the tools and leadership of our industry. Currently, many rely mainly on word of mouth from alumni and current students, or reactive marketing from inquiries to their Web sites. More affluent schools run expensive ads in publications such as The Economist, Asian Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.

These institutions of higher learning, and even language schools, need to understand and harness all direct marketing channels to attract these students who are willing and able to pay full tuition and fees.

In the West, we have heard much about Asian values. It is a term one hears often when studying Asian history or traveling in the region. These values are a firm work ethic combined with a belief in education and a shared view that individual rights should be subordinated to the nation's interest.

The National Association of Foreign Student Advisers reports that more than 550,000 foreign students study in the United States. China has more than 50,000 young people studying in the United States, with undergrads accounting for 70 percent vs. 19 percent for graduate students. Taiwan has 29,234, South Korea 41,191. More than 193,000 Japanese departed to study abroad in 2000, and about half came to the United States.

U.S. colleges and direct marketers should look over the horizon and see that more seniors are traveling and living abroad to study as well. Japan and other Asian societies are aging quickly. These "silver generation" students have the time and money to seek new adventures and studies. And, according to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, they want to share the program with silver travelers from other countries.

Experts agree that Japan has the world's finest elementary schools and Germany has outstanding high schools, but no country can touch U.S. colleges and universities. List brokers, teleservices firms, creative agencies, DRTV specialists, consultants and other service suppliers to our industry need to do some learning and some educating.

We need to learn more about the foreign education market and teach our colleges and universities how to use DM techniques to attract international students.

Finally, the U.S. government needs to take a greater hand. We spend lots of tax dollars selling American agricultural products, yet the experience of spending even a single summer semester on a U.S. college campus not only helps our trade deficit, it wins lifelong friends for the United States.

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