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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Soon to be senior Yinghong Wu, left, lower, and professor Christopher Tong discuss what classes Wu will need to take in order to graduate with dual degrees.

SALT LAKE CITY — Westminister College's decision to offer dual degrees in China and the U.S. could boost graduates' salaries by as much as 30 percent and open up new opportunities in a sluggish job market.

Westminister launched a duel-degree Bachelor of Arts in Economics program where students at the Salt Lake City-based school study two years in the U.S. and then two years in China. Chinese students can also complete the same setup, beginning first in their native China and then transferring to Utah.

Students who complete such a program could see a possible 20 percent to 30 percent bump in their potential starting pay, said Anthony Bennett, senior recruiting manager of the Salt Lake City office of Barrett Business Services Inc.

"Those Chinese-owned businesses have a vested interest in those who have learned their customs (and) their language," he said. "(Almost) certainly they will be paying a premium for those individuals who can quickly and easily assimilate into their business culture."

China's economy became the world's second-largest, to the U.S., in August 2010 when China's $1.34 trillion gross domestic product passed Japan. The growth may continue, fueling demand for people who can bridge the two cultures.

In one example, Tom Nieman, managing director at Los Angeles-based executive recruitment firm Fortis Partners, said he dealt with a hundreds of candidates for a green technology company. One stood out from the rest because the candidate spoke Mandarin Chinese. Nieman's client deals with Chinese manufacturers for their clean technology and the bilingual candidate fit the need.

"The ability to speak English and Mandarin is a distinct leg-up," Nieman said.

The school said the program is designed to enrich the lives of students and enhance their understanding of different cultures.

In addition to China, Westminster is also pursuing graduate certificate opportunities for masters of business administration students at other universities worldwide, including in France, Brazil, Czech Republic and Australia.

While the job prospects for graduates with international business education and training may be a bit better than most, today's economy could also present challenges for those seeking positions in the local environment.

Recent graduates may have a tougher time finding jobs if they have to compete against the numerous other candidates who may have experience on their side, said Emily Rushton, Salt Lake City division director of Accountemps.

If graduates were willing to look at employers with a broader reach, then the prospects would improve greatly.

"If they are wanting to pursue a career in a global or international company, the language skills alone would make them more competitive," said Emily Rushton, Salt Lake City division director for Accountemps. Those skills would allow candidates to ask for higher pay "versus someone who doesn't have those bilingual skills," she added.

Graduates should be mindful, Rushton said, that people pursuing careers in international business are typically more competitive, which may require less experienced candidates to take less pay "to get their foot in the door" with a goal of long-term career growth and eventually higher salaries.

Yinghong Wu, a third-year student in Westminster's dual-degree program, also known as "2 + 2," is currently studying finance and economics. She began her finance studies at Nankai University in Tianjin, China, before coming to Utah for the completion of her undergraduate curriculum in economics.

"We should have someone who knows the policies of both China and America that seeks for (employment) opportunity within the (cultural) gap," Wu said. "(That's) my career goal."

Upon graduation, Wu will receive a finance degree from Nankai and an economics degree from Westminster.

Freshman Chenny Chen said he chose to study accounting in the United States so that he could help his family's export business in China. He said engaging in international business requires a fluency in English, which will work in his long-term favor.

Chen and Wu expressed wishes to utilize their new-found knowledge and training in their native homeland, at least initially, a sentiment appreciated by Chris Tong, director at the Center for China-American Studies at Westminster.

"They all have a plan to go home and contribute," Tong said. "They understand both worlds the west and how the markets in China operate. If they go back, I am totally confident they will be successful Chinese business leaders."

— With reporting by Joey Ferguson

Email: jlee@desnews.com