May 3, 2012
As we seek ways to attract international students to our college campuses, lowering our standards and accepting candidates solely to boost revenue and clout doesn’t seem to be a smart way of going about it. But, it is exactly what’s happening. As states cut back on subsidies, slashing budgets and tightening belts, our colleges and universities are feeling the strain and altering their screening of foreign applicants.
In a way, being admitted on the basis of having famous parents may not necessarily get one into a university, but having influential relatives as likely donors will give the student a leg up. At least, that’s what Douglas Christiansen, the dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University is quoted as saying in an April 17, 2012 piece “Colleges angle for influential foreign students like Bo Guagua” on Reuters. Where a family’s clout overseas was once not a factor in the screening of applications of international students, more and more U.S. institutions are feeling the pinch and slowly abandoning their purist admissions practices and considering to “think about screening foreign applicants for their capacity to help boost revenue and prestige,” is how Phillip Ballinger, Admissions Director at the University of Washington in Seattle puts it in the same article.
You may have heard of Bo Guagua, and his “party-boy” persona, and even following the recent headlines surrounding his parents who are accused of political corruption and even murder of an English businessman in China. (Children of China’s political elite are commonly referred to as “princelings,” a strange moniker for a country that did away with emperors and all things princely.) Despite what news articles have uncovered about this young man’s spotty and subpar academic record beginning with his secondary education at Harrow (a prestigious boarding school for boys in England which appears to have admitted him on the basis of a strong recommendation from the very English businessman, now deceased), to his stint at Oxford University, where he was suspended for a year for “poor academic performance,” the 24-year old Bo Guagua was admitted to Harvard University’s Kennedy School to pursue a Master’s. And, he was on a scholarship!
What happened to academic performance? Parents are breaking their backs to put their students in college-preparatory programs and paying for private tutors so their children will score high on SAT’s and get into top notch universities. They apply for student loans and take second mortgages on their home to be able to pay for their child’s college tuition. And while soon-to-be high school graduates double up and pack their schedules with extra-curricular activities to strengthen their college applications, there are those, like the young Bo Guagua, who simply jump to the front of the line because of family ties and financial resources.
There’s something wrong with this picture and as one who has been involved in international education for nearly 30 years, I know the answer lies in the proper vetting of the international student with a thorough and detailed verification and evaluation of his/her academic documents. This may sound like a self-serving statement, but it is true. As public universities here in the US are feeling the pinch and pressured to loosen their reins on screening foreign applications, more and more are looking at ways to exercise more flexibility and at times turn a blind eye on the importance of credential evaluation. Sadly, one of the first departments that appear on an institution’s chopping block at times of financial hardship tends to be the international student office. Yet, the institutions set out to aggressively recruit international students knowing that they are a guaranteed revenue generating source.
Fortunately, there are still some holdouts in the education market. Just yesterday I spoke with the director of the international admissions office of a local community college who was adamant about having the applications of potential foreign students screened before encouraging them to apply to his institution. He wanted to be sure that a) the institution the foreign applicant had attended in his/her home country was accredited; b) the academic documents were bona fide, and c) that the studies were equivalent to U.S. high school graduation and beyond with satisfactory and above average grades. At least he has the good sense to verify these students’ academic documents in advance. Let’s hope that more institutions see things his way.
In our quest to attract international students, enriching our campuses with diversity and multiculturalism, boosting revenues that help our local and regional economies, we can maintain the integrity of our academic institutions without compromising our standards. If a community college is capable of doing this and still remain an attractive destination for international students, other institutions can do it too.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.