Baker notes that while cheaper foreign labor in these high-skill sectors could benefit U.S. businesses and our economy as a whole, it will put added pressure on recent American college graduates looking for work. In the end, though, NYU is a private institution—and business—and not a branch of the U.S. government concerned with economic woes and job creation. If a Chinese college graduate beats out an American college graduate for a lucrative job, well, they'll hope that that Chinese grad went to NYU Shanghai.

Jennifer Barron, 21, is a senior economics major at NYU in New York. Like many students preparing to finish school this spring, Barron is busy weighing her post-graduate options and applying for jobs.

"It's definitely a concern," she says, fresh from an interview with Vivaldi Partners Group, a market research and brand strategy firm in the city. "A lot of people who were even interviewing me today were foreign nationals—they were from all over the world. [Foreign competition] definitely plays into everything, but I don't think it necessarily makes me feel like I'm not going to get a job."

NYU President John Sexton attends the groundbreaking ceremony for NYU Shanghai's Pudong campus.
NYU President John Sexton attends the groundbreaking ceremony for NYU Shanghai's Pudong campus.

What is more of an immediate concern for Barron and other NYU students is high tuition, student loans, and plans to improve NYU on continents they may never actually visit.

"I personally don't know if I see the value in having satellite campuses that are for all four years," she says. "If you can't solve the problems at home, you shouldn't be worried about the problems abroad just yet."

All of which raises the question: Besides bringing in money for its parent university, what is the ultimate purpose of NYU Shanghai?

"I don't see what constituency this school is supposed to be serving," says Karl, who has taught Chinese undergraduates studying at NYU New York and has described some as "rigid" in their thinking because of the strict rote learning practiced in Chinese grade schools. "If it shies away from controversial social science, and journalism, and all of the things that, of course, require a certain amount of freedom and freedom of speech, then perhaps it'll find its niche somewhere and there will be enough students to fill the classrooms. But I'm skeptical."

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