Xiang Wang, a 25-year-old from southern China, knew what he wanted in a graduate business school: an impressive reputation and a rigorous curriculum that could land him a job in the United States after graduation.
That's how he ended up at the Johns Hopkins University's 10-year-old Carey Business School. He's on track to earn a master's degree in finance in May.
"Reputation is extremely important in China, and so U.S. schools, especially Hopkins, schools like this that are big brands, students want to go to these schools," Wang said.
Business schools in Maryland see growing opportunity for enrollment from overseas, and from China in particular, as students such as Wang seek out both the experience and value of an American business degree. The students represent a large market that offers the schools diversity of perspective, demographics and greater revenue.
At the Carey School, the share of students from China surged from 4 percent five years ago to 44 percent during the last school year.
At the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, where Chinese enrollment has surged to nearly 40 percent amid interest in specialty programs such as finance and accounting, recruiters are renewing their push in the Asian nation.
And Loyola University Maryland, which has few international students, is in talks with four universities in China and one in Taiwan for partnerships that would bring Asian students to the Sellinger School of Business for a one-year graduate degree.
"China is a very attractive partnership opportunity for American schools because of the size of the market," said Kathy Getz, Sellinger's dean. "There are so many universities and so many of them are high-quality, it's easy to find partners."
Chinese interest in attending American universities has boomed in the past decade. Enrollment has grown fivefold from 62,580 a decade ago to 328,547 in 2015-2016, according to the Institute of International Education.
About a third of international students in Maryland are from China, in line with national trends. International students account for less than 9 percent of university enrollment statewide, the institute found
About 24 percent of the Chinese students in the United States are coming for business schools as the nation's booming economy demands managers trained in business, finance and accounting.
The interest gives the schools an opportunity to expand recruiting and bring in more students who pay their own way. At the same time, classroom diversity, once a supplemental selling point, is becoming central to lessons about how to do business in an age of globalization.
"American-Chinese business ties are so deep — and growing," said Peggy Blumenthal, a senior counselor to the president at the Institute of International Education. "For an American to graduate without a profound understanding of what business looks like from a Chinese perspective is to shortchange them."
Large contingents of international students can also pose challenges. The students must adapt to a new culture in which speaking out and challenging the professor is not only accepted but encouraged, and faculty must learn to teach in a way that resonates with students from different backgrounds.
Universities must strike a balance between a diverse student population and one dominated by foreigners from one country. Tipping the scale could deter new international students, many of whom are looking to experience a new culture — not be surrounded by their countrymen — and could alienate some domestic students, analysts said.
"In the local community and university, there is sometimes a pushback when a segment of the population, especially internationally from one country, becomes so much larger in proportion," said Rahul Choudaha, CEO and principal researcher at the New York consulting firm DrEducation.
"When the same university has to talk to students abroad, they can play up that opportunity," he said. "They're managing two messages."
It's a tightrope that many business schools, faced with stagnant domestic growth and increasing competition online, are willing to walk.
About 48 percent of traditional full-time two-year MBA programs reported a decline in applications last year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. Forty-three percent of programs said applications increased.
Meanwhile, 57 percent of online MBA programs reported application growth, and 63 percent said they expected to expand their class size.
International students are more likely to pay full tuition and study full-time on campus, said Rick Beyer, a managing principal at the Washington consulting firm AGB Institutional Strategies.
"What you see across the country with colleges and universities is an attempt to diversify their revenue segments," Beyer said.
The international opportunity comes as domestic students face difficulty affording rising tuitions, which at top-flight business schools can reach $60,000 a year.
While domestic students might expect financial aid, many international students pay the full price, supported by their own or their family's savings or sponsored by an employer.
At Loyola, Getz said, international students likely would pay more than the school's American students.
Loyola's attempt to establish partnerships with schools in China and Taiwan is part of a broader effort to bring more diversity to the university's Baltimore campus. The school would also like to grow in Latin America, India and Africa. But so far, Loyola has been most aggressive in its outreach to China.
The Smith School of Business is considering working with a firm to identify students in China who might be interested in studying at the College Park campus, said Cliff McCormick, the school's executive director of admissions for master's programs.
The university expects the drive to strengthen its ties there, he said.
"Many, if not most, of our students who complete specialty master programs do return to their home country of China," McCormick said. "As they find their jobs with their employers and continue to stay in contact with us as a University of Maryland alum — that helps us continue to build relationships with them and their employers, as well."
China is only one part of the international outreach by Hopkins' Carey Business School. The school is also recruiting students from India, Latin America and some Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, said Monica Moore, the school's associate dean for academic programs and admissions.
Hopkins attributes the enrollment surge to growing interest from foreign students as the school built out its degree offerings. The Carey School was founded in 2007 and began accepting full-time students in 2010.
"We didn't target China," Moore said. "It wasn't until we saw an influx that we said we better be able to respond."
In 2013, Carey started a summer intensive program for international students who had not yet studied in the United States, and expanded support for those speaking English as a second language. In 2014, the school appointed an assistant dean for global collaboration, based in Beijing, to strengthen relations in China.
Wang came to Hopkins for its reputation, but he also was looking for diversity, and he's found it. He's made friends from around the world — the United States, India, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and, of course, China, while studying at the Carey campus in Washington.
Punit Ruparel, a 30-year-old Carey student from Mumbai, India, sought out ways to immerse himself in American culture. To satisfy his interest in entertainment and media, he started a business of entertainment club at Hopkins, through which he has met many people and traveled to California.
"Carey is very entrepreneurial," Ruparel said. "It gives you the tools, and it depends on you what you will do."
But not all foreign students share Wang's and Ruparel's experience. Analysts warn that universities should be concerned about isolation among international students.
Thirty-eight percent of international students at 10 public universities surveyed in 2012 said they had no close American friends. Study author Elisabeth Gareis, a communication studies professor at Baruch College in New York, found students from Asian countries, who often faced significant language and cultural barriers, were the most isolated.
"If we don't foster meaningful contact between domestic and international students, we are not really doing a job we're supposed to do, and we're missing this great opportunity," Gareis said.
Wang said he knows students who struggle to assimilate.
"I think the reason is quite simple," he said. "If you're not familiar with a culture, you don't tend to understand the expectations and the customs, so you feel awkward."
Hopkins' summer intensive program helps new international students get acclimated, Wang said, but he made a point to push himself to get to know other students.
On campus, Hopkins professors share ideas about how to help international students adjust to American academic culture and speak up more in class. Mario Macis, who teaches microeconomics and human resources management at the Carey School, makes class participation a small part of the course grade.
The challenge varies depending on the course, Macis said. For example, microeconomics involves math — a universal language. But human resources concepts can be harder to explain because norms vary so much by country.
"It's up to the instructor to leverage those differences to make the class richer," Macis said. "The result is nice. It forces me to demonstrate the applicability of what I teach and make it relevant to everybody."