Thursday's event will "underscore the importance of study abroad in China and the benefits to our strategic relationship with China as well as the personal benefits individuals receive through these exciting experiences," the news release said.
Until now, the 100,000 Strong Initiative -- announced by President Obama on his trip to China in 2009 -- has operated inside the State Department. Thursday's 1 p.m. ceremony marks its transition to a non-profit, nongovernmental organization operating independently.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially launched the Obama initiative in May 2010 in Beijing. "China has established dozens of Confucius Institutes across the United States that offer Chinese language instruction and cultural programs to help Americans better understand China," Clinton said at the time. "We would like to see similar American language and culture centers on the campuses of Chinese universities."
According to State Department statistics, in the 2010/11 academic year, 14,596 U.S. students were studying in China, which was number five on the list of study-abroad destinations, behind the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and France.
A State Department fact sheet states that a central objective of the 100,000 Strong initiative is to expand study-abroad programs in China to “underrepresented groups,” including students from high schools, community colleges and minority-serving institutions.
Michelle Obama also touted the initiative in remarks at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in Jan. 2011: "[S]tudying abroad isn’t just an important part of a well-rounded educational experience," Mrs. Obama said. "It’s also becoming increasingly important for success in the modern global economy.
She told students, "With every friendship you make, and every bond of trust you establish, you are shaping the image of America projected to the rest of the world. That is so important. So when you study abroad, you’re actually helping to make America stronger."
In support of the 100,000 Strong Initiative, the State Department says the Chinese Ministry of Education is now offering 10,000 scholarships through the China Scholarship Council for American students to study at many of their top universities.
According to the State Department's 2012 Open Doors Report, the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by six percent to a record high of 764,495 in the 2011/12 academic year, while U.S. students studying abroad increased by one percent.
"The growth is largely driven by strong increases in the number of students from China," the report said. In the 2011/12 academic year, 194,029 students from China were studying in the United States (up 23 percent from 157,558 in the previous year).
While the majority of Chinese students study at the graduate level, the U.S. continues to experience an upsurge in the number of undergraduate students coming from China.
In Oct. 2012, Voice of America quoted a University of Southern California political scientist as saying that Chinese students are using what they learn in the United States to set up businesses in China.
And a month later, in November 2012, the Christian Science Monitor quoted the executive vice president of the State Department's Institute of International Education:
“There’s a growing middle class in China … that wants to find the best education for their children, and they have a lot of resources to pour into their one child,” said Peggy Blumenthal. She said many multinational corporations in China are finding that the most effective employees are those who got a U.S. education.