发表于 2011-11-11 02:04

原来美国大学已将中国留学生分析得如此透彻

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摘要: 美国《纽约时报》11月3日刊登了一篇题为《中国难题》的大特稿,字字句句击中中国留学生的要害,让人不禁感叹:原来美国大学已经将中国留学生分析得如此透彻。 文章说,那些急着想要增加国际知名度和校内学生多样性的学校,已经冲去中国招生了。中国学生像是一笔天赐的财富,能够帮助美国大学解决紧缺的资金问题;但这些 ...

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美国《纽约时报》11月3日刊登了一篇题为《中国难题》的大特稿,字字句句击中中国留学生的要害,让人不禁感叹:原来美国大学已经将中国留学生分析得如此透彻。
文章说,那些急着想要增加国际知名度和校内学生多样性的学校,已经冲去中国招生了。中国学生像是一笔天赐的财富,能够帮助美国大学解决紧缺的资金问题;但这些学校同时也在“如何才能分辨出真正优秀的中国学生的泥沼”中挣扎。
谁才是真正优秀的学生?
■原因
申请过程由中介一手包办
美国大学已经渐渐开始明白,大部分中国学生都会求助于留学中介,整个申请过程由他们一手包办。
《纽约时报》说:“教育中介在中国扮演着长期且重要的角色。招生专家说,中国学生将重心放在课业上,也许从没写过一篇个人论文。另外,推荐信这样东西在中国几乎毫无意义。而中介能够提供的一项重要服务就是引导整个申请流程,让它看起来就像在外国办事那样。”
一些中介会在申请材料上作假。
堪萨斯州立大学国际招生部主管刘易斯说,他曾收到过来自同一家中介明显的伪造材料——申请的5个学生身处不同的城市,但使用了同一家银行的户头;5份成绩单中有3份一模一样。
去年,一个机构出版了一份调查报告,报告针对250名准备赴美留学的北京高中生、他们的父母和数十家中介机构。
报告指出,90%的中国申请者提交了捏造的推荐信,70%的个人自传是由别人代写的,50%的人篡改了高中成绩,10%的人列出了从未得到的奖励和成绩。报告还说,这股申请的作假之风还将随着申请人数的增加愈演愈烈。
不为学习英语只为考出高分
中国人会读书,这早已不是新鲜的传闻。众多考过美国大学留学必备考试托福和SAT的人,无数次地证明了这一点。但是,考了高分并不意味你就有和分数一般高的能力。
《纽约时报》说:“中国学生学习以考试为中心,高中学生花费大量时间准备高考。因此,大部分学生花上几个月的时间苦读英语是经常的事儿。”
美国爱荷华州立大学招生部助理柏崔西·帕克说,他见过很多中国学生在她面前自豪地炫耀自己记住了上万个单词,学习考试机经(历年流传下来的考题和答案)和考试的答题技巧,这帮助他们能在考试中猜对答案。
她还遇见一些学生,能在短短一个暑假的时间里,提高30分或40分的托福成绩,但是他们的英语口语却一点没有提高。
■改变
授课方式的改变
为了适应中国学生的英语水平,很多美国教授做出了显著改变。
首先,减少演讲形式的考试。皮埃尔教授说,过去他一学期一般要求学生演讲3次,但现在尽量只让他们讲一次。因为曾有美国学生跑来向他抱怨,听不懂中国学生到底在讲什么。美国学生说:“这太让人痛苦了。”
其次,尽量使用最简单的词汇。史怀哲是金融学教授,有一次一个中国学生跑去问他:“‘升序(ascending)’是什么意思?”他说:“是因为他们听错问题了,还是他们不会说英语?”
最后,很多学校开设了帮助国际学生融入美国学术生活的课程,同时也为那些班上有中国学生的教授开设研讨班。
完善招生程序
对于那些一年只能到中国一两次的美国招生老师来说,很难了解哪些才是真正的好学生。
于是,今年他们开始聘请更了解中国学生的当地机构帮助招生,尽管这事儿在美国是不允许的,所以备受争论。
另外,很多美国学校还加大了针对中国学生的面试力度。他们有的会派人常驻中国,对学生展开面对面的面试,有些则会使用skype(视频聊天软件)进行视频面试。
针对申请材料作假的问题,美国学校开始聘请设在中国的第三方审查机构,复查学生提交的成绩单。
■现状
新学期伊始……
特拉华大学(位于美国东部)开学这天,几十个新学生挤在一个小小的学生中心大厅里,大多穿着时尚,水磨牛仔裤搭配着亮色球鞋。他们分成两群,一半人安静地摆弄着手上的智能手机,而另一半则在热烈地交谈。如果你不说普通话,还真听不懂他们在说些什么。
人群里,有个孩子像是丢了魂,无法融入任何一方。因为,除了他是哥伦比亚人(拉丁美洲国家)以外,其他都是中国人。
范伊苏(化名)是这群学生中的一员,6小时前刚从上海飞到这里。和大部分被特拉华大学录取的学生一样,他拿到的是有条件的录取通知书。也就是说,他必须在成功完成英语课程后,才能正式注册入学,开始大学生活。
范伊苏申请的是金融专业。他说自己毕业后会回到中国,加入父亲的建筑公司。当被问到你为什么要来一个离家11000多公里远的地方读大学,他回答说:“美国人的教育很好。”
谁才是真正的好学生?
《纽约时报》说:“这种看法在中国广泛流传。”
事实就是,赴美读书的中国留学生数量在几年内激增,这让美国大学震惊。不像韩国和印度,他们一直在向美国输入大量学生,但数量一直保持平稳。今年到美国读书的中国学生是3年前的3倍,共有4万人,已经跻身美国第一大国际学生团体。
那些能为国际学生提供特殊语言课程的大型公立大学特别受中国学生欢迎,特拉华大学就是最好的例子,在校的中国学生从2007年的8人飙升至今年的517人。
这些孩子基本都来自国内迅速扩张的中产阶级。他们能够支付全额学费,无需奖学金,有助于解决美国大学紧张的预算问题。
另一方面,他们也给美国大学带来了巨大的难题——到底谁才是真正优秀的“中国好学生”?
■问题
为什么要这样说呢?这还得从中国学生在美国读书过程中暴露出来的问题说起。这些问题让美国大学惊呼:“他们和申请学校时,个人自传里、教授推荐信里形容的那个人是同一个吗!
作弊、剽窃问题很严重
今年在堪萨斯州立大学秋季学期中,学校发现有几个坐在教室里的学生的相貌和他们在几个月前参加托福考试时拍摄的相片完全不同。这证明他们的托福成绩是别人代考的。目前,堪萨斯州立大学已成立了一个起草处理托福作弊政策的委员会。
去年9月,在特拉华大学纽瓦克校区的新生报到会上,语言学院主管斯科特·斯蒂文站在几乎坐满了学生的剧院舞台上。他身后的大屏幕展示着一张巨大的照片——两个白人学生坐在课桌前,其中一人试图偷看另一个同学的卷子。斯蒂文告诉主要是中国学生的观众:“你们都很聪明,所以就用那份聪明完成自己的卷子。”
斯蒂文坦言,面对人数激增的中国学生,防止抄袭几乎成了他们的首要工作。
英语水平跟不上
《纽约时报》说:“中国学生英语水平有限。虽然他们优秀、努力,但还是无法和同年级的美国同学处于同一水平。”
马达蒙(化名)就读于语言中心的衔接课程,这是最高级别的语言课程,从那里毕业的人就可以正式开始大学课程。
他的第一堂课是中国古代史,几个星期下来,他无法完全听懂课程。他说:“我大概能听懂70%的内容,没法听懂具体在说什么,一些细节和单词听不懂。”
有很多学生最开始都以为自己读上几个月的英语课程就可以,结果却在语言中心里待了一年多,为每8周的课程支付2850美元(约合人民币18000元)。
有5%的中国学生在大一课程开始前,就已从语言课程中退学。
死寂的课堂 吓跑了外国同学
去年秋天,一共有35名学生注册了肯特·皮埃尔教授的中级会计学课程,其中17人来自中国。很快,美国学生都不见了,教室里只剩下3个美国人。
为什么美国学生都逃跑了?他们说:“课堂上实在太安静了。”
《纽约时报》说:“在亚洲的很多学校里,设置大量课堂讨论是相当反常的。皮埃尔教授认为,同理,如果把一群美国学生放在中国学校的课堂上,他们将会变成一群合不拢嘴的话匣子。
皮埃尔教授补充说,“中国学生的平均成绩不会比其他本科生差。”这从某种层面上反映了中国学生在定量分析方面的过人能力,在无需精通英语的商科和工程专业里占有优势。
■为何仍然爱招中国学生?
有的为名有的为利
就在不久前,某网站的汤姆老师接到美国一所大学教务长的电话,他让汤姆老师帮助招收250个中国学生。当被问及为什么要招那么多人时,该教务长说,他们学院正面临严重的预算赤字,需要有人填补。他说:“我们需要额外的、能够独自承担学费的学生,在中国能找到很多这样的人。”
事实上,中国已被视为一个巨大的留学生市场。当美国俄克拉何马基督教大学决定招收国际学生时,他们首先想到的就是中国,该校国际项目负责人说:“中国就是我们的目标。”
也有人不这么认为。特拉华大学的哈克博士说,他拒绝接受这种说法,“从新泽西来的学生也要付学费。对于我们来说,主要是为了增加校内学生的多样性和学校的国际知名度”。

纽约时报原文如下:
This article is a collaboration between The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education, a daily source of news, opinion and commentary for professors, administrators and others interested in academe. Tom Bartlett is a senior writer at The Chronicle covering ideas and research; Karin Fischer is a senior reporter covering international education.
DOZENS of new students crowded into a lobby of the University of Delaware’s student center at the start of the school year. Many were stylishly attired in distressed jeans and bright-colored sneakers; half tapped away silently on smartphones while the rest engaged in boisterous conversations. Eavesdropping on those conversations, however, would have been difficult for an observer not fluent in Mandarin. That’s because, with the exception of one lost-looking soul from Colombia, all the students were from China.
Among them was Yisu Fan, whose flight from Shanghai had arrived six hours earlier. Too excited to sleep, he had stayed up all night waiting for orientation at the English Language Institute to begin. Like nearly all the Chinese students at Delaware, Mr. Fan was conditionally admitted — that is, he can begin taking university classes once he successfully completes an English program. He plans to major in finance and, after graduation, to return home and work for his father’s construction company. He was wearing hip, dark-framed glasses and a dog tag around his neck with a Chinese dragon on it. He chose to attend college more than 7,000 miles from home, Mr. Fan said, because “the Americans, their education is very good.”
That opinion is widely shared in China, which is part of the reason the number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States has tripled in just three years, to 40,000, making them the largest group of foreign students at American colleges. While other countries, like South Korea and India, have for many years sent high numbers of undergraduates to the United States, it’s the sudden and startling uptick in applicants from China that has caused a stir at universities — many of them big, public institutions with special English-language programs — that are particularly welcoming toward international students. Universities like Delaware, where the number of Chinese students has leapt to 517 this year, from 8 in 2007.
The students are mostly from China’s rapidly expanding middle class and can afford to pay full tuition, a godsend for universities that have faced sharp budget cuts in recent years. But what seems at first glance a boon for colleges and students alike is, on closer inspection, a tricky fit for both.
Colleges, eager to bolster their diversity and expand their international appeal, have rushed to recruit in China, where fierce competition for seats at Chinese universities and an aggressive admissions-agent industry feed a frenzy to land spots on American campuses. College officials and consultants say they are seeing widespread fabrication on applications, whether that means a personal essay written by an agent or an English proficiency score that doesn’t jibe with a student’s speaking ability. American colleges, new to the Chinese market, struggle to distinguish between good applicants and those who are too good to be true.
Once in the classroom, students with limited English labor to keep up with discussions. And though they’re excelling, struggling and failing at the same rate as their American counterparts, some professors say they have had to alter how they teach.
Colleges have been slow to adjust to the challenges they’ve encountered, but are beginning to try new strategies, both to better acclimate students and to deal with the application problems. The onus is on them, says Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Peking University High School, one of Beijing’s top schools, and director of its international division. “Are American universities unhappy? Because Chinese students and parents aren’t.”
“Nothing will change,” Mr. Jiang says, “unless American colleges make it clear to students and parents that it has to.”
WENTING TANG is quick to laugh, listens to high-energy bands like Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and OK Go, and describes herself on her Facebook page as “really really fun” and “really really serious.” Ms. Tang, a junior majoring in management and international business, speaks confident, if not flawless, English. That wasn’t always the case. When she applied to the University of Delaware, her English was, in her estimation, very poor.
Ms. Tang, who went to high school in Shanghai, didn’t exactly choose to attend Delaware, a public institution of about 21,000 students that admits about half its applicants — and counts Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. among prominent graduates. Ms. Tang’s mother wanted her to attend college in the United States, and so they visited the offices of a dozen or more agents, patiently listening to their promises and stories of success.

Her mother chose an agency that suggested Delaware and helped Ms. Tang fill out her application, guiding her through a process that otherwise would have been bewildering. Because her English wasn’t good enough to write the admissions essay, staff members at the agency, which charged her $4,000, asked her questions about herself in Chinese and produced an essay. (Test prep was another $3,300.)

Now that she can write in English herself, she doesn’t think much of what the employees wrote. But it served its purpose: she was admitted, and spent six months in the English-language program before beginning freshman classes. And despite bumps along the way, she’s getting good grades and enjoying college life. As for allowing an agent to write her essay, she sees that decision in pragmatic terms: “At that time, my English not better as now.”

Most Chinese students who are enrolled at American colleges turn to intermediaries to shepherd them through the admissions process, according to a study by researchers at Iowa State University published in the Journal of College Admission.

Education agents have long played a role in sending Chinese students abroad, dating back decades to a time when American dollars were forbidden in China and only agents could secure the currency to pay tuition. Admission experts say they can provide an important service, acting as guides to an application process that can seem totally, well, foreign. Application materials are frequently printed only in English. Chinese students often are baffled by the emphasis on extracurriculars and may have never written a personal essay. Requiring recommendations from guidance counselors makes little sense in a country where few high schools have one on staff. Many assume the U.S. News & World Report rankings issue is an official government publication.

But while there are certainly aboveboard agents and applications, other recruiters engage in fraudulent behavior. An administrator at one high school in Beijing says agents falsified her school’s letterhead to produce doctored transcripts and counterfeit letters of recommendation, which she discovered when a parent called to complain about being charged a fee by an agent for documents from the school. James E. Lewis, director of international admissions and recruiting at Kansas State University, says he once got a clutch of applications clearly submitted by a single agent, with all fees charged to the same bank branch, although the students came from several far-flung cities. The grades on three of the five transcripts, he says, were identical.

Zinch China, a consulting company that advises American colleges and universities about China, last year published a report based on interviews with 250 Beijing high school students bound for the United States, their parents, and a dozen agents and admissions consultants. The company concluded that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit false recommendations, 70 percent have other people write their personal essays, 50 percent have forged high school transcripts and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive. The “tide of application fraud,” the report predicted, will likely only worsen as more students go to America.

Tom Melcher, Zinch China’s chairman and the report’s author, says it’s simplistic to vilify agents who provide these services. They’re responding, he says, to the demands of students and parents.

Thanks to China’s one-child policy, today’s college students are part of a generation of singletons, and their newly affluent parents — and, in all likelihood, both sets of grandparents — are deeply invested in their success. At Aoji Education Group, a large college counseling company based in China, one of the most popular services is the guaranteed-placement package: apply to five colleges and get your money back if you’re not accepted at any of your choices. “If a student isn’t placed, we’ve got screaming, yelling parents in the lobby,” says Kathryn O’Hehir, who works in the company’s American admissions department in Beijing. “They don’t want their money back. They want their kid in an Ivy League school.”

Students in China’s test-centric culture spend most of their high school years studying for the gao kao, the college entrance exam that is the sole determining factor in whether students win a coveted spot at one of China’s oversubscribed universities. So it’s not unusual for those who want to study in the United States to spend months cramming for the SAT and the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, which most campuses require for admission.

Patricia J. Parker, assistant director of admissions at Iowa State, which enrolls more than 1,200 Chinese undergraduates, says students have proudly told her about memorizing thousands of vocabulary words, studying scripted responses to verbal questions and learning shortcuts that help them guess correct answers.

She has seen conditionally admitted students increase their Toefl scores by 30 or 40 points, out of a possible 120, after a summer break, despite no significant improvement in their ability to speak English. Her students, she says, don’t see this intense test-prepping as problematic: “They think the goal is to pass the test. They’re studying for the test, not studying English.”

Ms. Parker estimates she contacts the Educational Testing Services, the nonprofit group that is in charge of the Toefl, every other day during the admissions season to investigate suspicious scores. Like many educators, she would like to see changes to make it harder to beat the exam.

At Kansas State this fall, several Chinese students showed up for classes but did not match the security photos that were snapped when they supposedly took the Toefl months earlier. E.T.S. says it takes additional precautions, such as collecting handwriting samples to reduce the chance that students will hire someone to slip in, in their stead, after breaks. If cheating is found, E.T.S. policy is to cancel a score, but the organization won’t say how often that happens, and where. Kansas State, too, won’t comment on disciplinary measures, but it has named a committee to draft a policy on dealing with fraud on the Toefl. Says Mr. Lewis, the international admissions director, “It’s very hard, sitting here at a desk in the U.S., to judge what’s fraudulent.”

DURING this past September’s orientation on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus, Scott Stevens, director of the English Language Institute, stood on stage in front of a mostly filled theater. Behind him, on a large screen, was a stock photo of two white college students seated at desks. The male student was leaning over to look at the female student’s paper. “We are original, so that means we never cheat!” Dr. Stevens told the audience of primarily Chinese students, mixing compliments and warnings. “You are all very intelligent. Use that intelligence to write your own papers.”

Dr. Stevens has worked at the language institute since 1982. As the program has swelled in the last few years, the institute has outgrown its main building and expanded to classroom space behind the International House of Pancakes on the campus’s main drag. Watching Dr. Stevens over the course of a day, it’s clear that he is a man with more tasks than time. It’s also clear that he’s proud of his well-regarded institute and that he cares about students. He gives out his cellphone number and tells them to call any time, even in the middle of the night, if they need him.

But he is candid about the challenges Delaware is facing as the population of Chinese students has grown from a handful to hundreds. Confronting plagiarism is near the top of the list. Dr. Stevens remembers how one student memorized four Wikipedia entries so he could regurgitate whichever one seemed most appropriate on an in-class essay — an impressive, if misguided, feat. American concepts of intellectual property don’t translate readily to students from a country where individualism is anathema. (In the language program, Dr. Stevens says there has been no surge in formal disciplinary actions, as instructors prefer to handle questions of plagiarism in the classroom.)

Just as an understanding of authorship is bound up in culture, so are notions of authority. “It’s not simply the language and culture but the political element as well,” he says. “We’re well aware that the Chinese are raised on propaganda, and the U.S. is not portrayed very positively. If you’ve been raised on that for the first 18 years of your life, when it comes down to who they trust — they trust each other. They don’t particularly trust us.”

Instead of living with a randomly selected American, Dr. Stevens says, some freshmen will pay their required housing fees but rent apartments together off campus, a violation of university rules. And they rarely attend voluntary functions at the institute. At a gathering this summer, of the nearly 400 students from 40 countries, about 10 were from China. Also, according to Dr. Stevens, students regularly switch classes to be with their countrymen, rather than stay in the ones they’ve been assigned by their advisers.

One of those advisers is Jennifer Gregan-Paxton. Dr. Gregan-Paxton, program coordinator of the business school’s office of undergraduate advising, says she is impressed by the work ethic and politeness of her students from China. They regularly bring her and other professors small gifts to show their appreciation; on a single day recently, she received a folding fan, a necklace and a silk scarf. She’s not surprised that they would want to stick together. “Even if there were Chinese students who wanted to break out of their pack,” she says, “they wouldn’t necessarily get the warmest reception.”

For example, Ms. Tang, the marketing major, recalls one class in which, she says, the professor ignored her questions and only listened to American students. Also, while working on a group project in a sociology class, she says she was given the cold shoulder: “They pretend to welcome you but they do not.” The encounters left a deep impression. “I will remember that all of my life,” she says.

Last fall, Kent E. St. Pierre was teaching an intermediate accounting class with 35 students, 17 of them from China. Within a couple of weeks, all but three of the non-Chinese students had dropped the course. Why did the American students flee? “They said the class was very quiet,” recalls Dr. St. Pierre, who considers himself a 1960s-style liberal and says he’s all for on-campus diversity. But, he agrees, “It was pretty deadly.”

In many schools across Asia, vigorous give-and-take is the exception. No doubt, as Dr. St. Pierre points out, if you were to place Americans into a Chinese classroom they would seem like chatterboxes.

Despite the unfamiliar learning style, the average grades of Chinese students at Delaware are nearly identical to other undergraduates’. That may, in part, reflect China’s strong preparation in quantitative skills, which holds them in good stead in math-intensive programs like business and engineering, two of the most popular majors for Chinese students and ones in which mastery of English is less crucial. Indeed, some of China’s undergraduates are strong enough to land spots at the nation’s most selective institutions; Harvard had about 40 in the 2010-11 academic year.

But some professors say they have significantly changed their teaching practices to accommodate the students. During quizzes, Dr. St. Pierre now requires everyone to leave their books at the front of the classroom to prevent cheating, a precaution not taken during any of his two decades at Delaware. And participation counts less, so as not to sink the grades of foreign students. In the past, he required members of the class to give two or three presentations during the semester. Now he might ask them to give one. “I’ve had American students saying they don’t understand what’s being said in the presentations,” he says. “It’s painful.”

Robert Schweitzer, a professor of finance and economics, frets about using fairly basic vocabulary words. “I have students say, ‘I don’t know what ‘ascending’ means,’ ” Dr. Schweitzer says. “Did they get the question wrong because they don’t know the material or because they don’t know the language?”

Damon Ma is in the language center’s so-called bridge program, which means his English was good enough that he could start taking regular classes even though he hasn’t finished with the language program. Mr. Ma is very enthusiastic about studying in the United States, something he’s dreamed about doing since he was a boy, and he is conscious of the academic contrasts between the two countries.

“Everything is copying in China,” Mr. Ma says. “They write a 25-page paper and they spent two hours and they got an A.”

He was nervous about taking his first university class — an introduction to ancient Chinese history — and, a few weeks into the semester, was still wrestling with the language barrier. “I understand maybe 70 percent,” he says. “I can’t get the details, the vocabulary.”

Many arrive at Delaware expecting to take English classes for just a few months, but end up spending a year or more at the language institute, paying $2,850 per eight-week session.

Chuck Xu and Edison Ding have been in Delaware’s English program for a full year. Their English is, at best, serviceable, and they struggle to carry on a basic conversation with a reporter. Mr. Ding says he paid an agent about $3,000 to prep him for standardized exams, fill out his application and help write his essay in English. What was the essay about? Mr. Ding doesn’t recall.

Mr. Xu just completed the program and is now enrolled in freshman classes. Mr. Ding has yet to pass the final stage and hopes to begin regular classes in the spring.

About 5 percent of students in the language program flunk out before their freshman year. In addition, Chengkun Zhang, a former president of Delaware’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association, has known students who simply got frustrated and returned home. “I know a couple of students who have complained to me,” he says. “They think that the E.L.I. program is doing nothing more than pulling money from their pockets.”

THE university’s push to attract more foreign students is part of the “Path to Prominence,” a plan laid out by Delaware’s president, Patrick T. Harker. When Dr. Harker came to Delaware five years ago, less than 1 percent of the freshman class was international. He knows firsthand about the classroom challenges because he has taught a freshman course each year. “They’re very good students that struggle with American idiom and American culture,” he says. Dr. Harker says he’s aware that applications from China aren’t always what they seem to be. He notes, though, that it’s a problem lots of universities, not just Delaware, are grappling with.

But Dr. Harker rejects the notion that the university’s recruiting effort in China is mainly about money. “The students from New Jersey pay, too,” he says. “For us it really is about diversity.”

Still, the majority of Delaware’s international undergraduates are Chinese, an imbalance Louis L. Hirsh, the university’s director of admissions, says he’s working to change. Delaware is trying to make inroads into the Middle East and South America, he says.

For colleges that want to go global, and quickly, a natural place for recruiting efforts is China.

When Oklahoma Christian University decided to jump into international admissions, it hired three recruiters and sent them to China. “China was the market we decided to target,” says John Osborne, Oklahoma Christian’s director of international programs, “because it was just so large.” Today, the university, which admitted its first foreign student in 2007, has 250 overseas undergraduates, a quarter of whom are from China.

Indeed, if universities turned on the recruiting spigot in China expecting a steady trickle of students, they’ve gotten a gusher instead. Ohio State received nearly 2,900 undergraduate applications from China this year. Mount Holyoke College could have filled its entire freshman class with Chinese students. A single foreign-college fair in Beijing this fall drew a crowd of 30,000.

The very size of the market can make it daunting and difficult to navigate. While many American colleges have long-established connections with universities in China, pipelines for generations of graduate students, most do not have strong relationships with the country’s high schools. When only a few of the very best students went abroad, it was easy enough for colleges to focus their efforts on a handful of elite secondary schools, but now admissions officers must familiarize themselves with potentially thousands of schools to find a good fit. That’s tough for American recruiters who only visit once or twice a year.

Some universities, including Delaware, have hired agents overseas, a practice that is banned in domestic recruiting, and this year has been at the center of a debate within the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Though the agents act as universities’ representatives, marketing them at college fairs and soliciting applications, that’s no guarantee that colleges know the origin of the applications, or the veracity of their grades and scores.

For those on the ground, there’s deepening concern that American colleges have entered China without truly understanding it.

Not long ago, Tom Melcher of Zinch China was contacted by the provost of a large American university who wanted to recruit 250 Chinese students, stat. When asked why, the provost replied that his institution faced a yawning budget deficit. To fill it, he told Mr. Melcher, the university needed additional students who could pay their own way, and China has many of them.

“Do I think the budget squeeze is driving the rush to international?” Mr. Melcher says. “Unfortunately, yes.”

At Delaware, officials are trying new strategies. They’ve started a program that pairs Chinese and other international students with mentors to help ease their transition to American academic life. In addition, the English Language Institute runs workshops for faculty members who have Chinese students in their classes. Other institutions are also rethinking their approach. Valparaiso University, in Indiana, has started a special course to give international students on academic probation extra help with English and study skills.

There are ways to improve the admissions process as well, including interviewing applicants in person to get a sense of their actual English abilities and to discover more about their academic backgrounds beyond test scores. A handful of institutions, including the University of Virginia, have alumni and students interview prospective students, either in the home country or via Skype, and the Council on International Educational Exchange, a nonprofit group, has begun offering an interview service. Such changes are welcome to some educators on the ground. Mr. Jiang, the deputy principal in Beijing, believes oral interviews could give colleges a better sense of students’ readiness for an American classroom.

Some universities, too, are hiring outside evaluators to review transcripts or are opening offices in China with local staff members who can spot the application red flags that colleges are missing. But interviewing and thoroughly evaluating every applicant, considering the deluge, would be an enormous and expensive undertaking.

For officials like Dr. Stevens, who has been dealing with international students for nearly three decades, Chinese undergraduates are like a code he’s still trying to decipher: “How can we reach them? How can we get them to engage?”

“That,” he says, “is something that keeps me up at night.”

From: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/the-china-conundrum.html?pagewanted=6&_r=1&sq=chinese%20student&st=cse&scp=1

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