How Chinese Students Are Changing Our Colleges

Nearly 600,000 foreign undergraduate students now study at US colleges and universities, some 165,000 of them from China, the total from China grew by nearly 30 percent in 2009/2010, with a percentage rise in double digits every year since, according to the Institute of International Education’s “Open Doors” report, funded by the U.S. Department of State.

UC Berkeley’s 2015 international students’ GPA’s, and SAT and ACT test scores were competitive with those of California and out-of-state residents, according to a spokeswoman from the Student Affairs Communication office.  Average admission SAT scores were 2124 for California and international students, 2171 for out-of-state residents.

The Problem of Cheating

But colleagues of mine still teaching say that the quality of Chinese students is deteriorating. Schlafly reports that about 8,000 Chinese students were expelled last year for poor academic performance or for cheating.  An executive from the WholeRen company that caters to such students admits that the students used Jo be considered “top-notch”; but over the past five years they have gained a reputation as wealthy kids who cheat.

The Wall Street Journal recently acquired data on cheating from 14 public universities around the country and found that students from China were reported  to be cheating at five times the rate of American students. Faculty contacted by Journal reporters often singled out Chinese students. “Cheating among Chinese students, especially those with poor language skills, is a huge problem,” said Beth Mitchneck, a University of Arizona professor of geography and development.

Maseratis and Lamborghinis

The wealth of the Chinese who come to the United States to buy real estate and study (including high school students) has been widely reported.  An indication comes from sales data at luxury car dealers.  Chinese students’ car purchases accounted for 10 to 20 percent of a luxury car dealer’s entire sales near Michigan State in East Lansing, 8 percent of luxury car sales near the University of Oregon at Eugene, and 5 percent near the University of Iowa in Iowa City.  The 12,000 Chinese students (out of 44,000 total foreign students) attending the dozens of colleges in the Boston area are often seen driving Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and Range Rovers, according to Schlafly’s report.

Boston University, where international students make up 24 percent of the student body, has a “strong” and longer than usual history of welcoming international students, says Anne Corriveau, Senior Associate Director of the Office of International Admissions

At public colleges, administrators see a financial benefit from the higher out-of-state tuition rates that international students pay. While UC Berkeley maintains that scores for admission of international students are competitive, Schlafly claims that 4,500 California students were denied entry to the state’s public colleges in favor of out-of-state and foreign students with lower SAT scores. Foreign students pay two to three times the rates for in-state American students, which makes up for shrinking subsidies from state governments.

While overall SAT scores may be on par, international students’ scores in the critical reading and writing portions may lag, says Carriveau.  She admits that the Toefl (Test of English as a Foreign Language) often does not indicate a proficiency that is adequate for passing a freshman writing course.  Agencies in China and other places guide families through the application process, even writing essays for students. Many pass the Toefl test by memorization.  Such students are accommodated with extra resources and special classes at Boston University, and elsewhere.

The Pressure on Teachers

College administrators, however, are also placing the burden on professors, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in the recent article, “Colleges Help the Faculty Adapt Teaching for Foreign Students.”  Iowa State University communications professor Jay Newell, for example, adapted after observing a group of disengaged Chinese students and realizing that they could not understand his lectures because, of course, they were in English. Newell told the Chronicle, “My job is to make sure that students learn this stuff and understand it and engage with it.”  He saw the foreign students’ falling behind as being his “’problem as much as it was theirs.’”

But it seems to be getting worse.  Rather than insisting that Chinese students perform at the same level as other students, our universities are catering to them. This includes my old workplace, Emory, where a 2014 news article applauded professors who took lessons in Mandarin.  One is Italian lecturer Simona Muratore who enrolled in the free language classes offered on campus after she found she could not communicate in either English or Italian with the growing number of Chinese students in her Italian language class.

Economics professor Frank Maddox, who also teaches on Emory’s Oxford campus, was preparing to leave for a fall sabbatical in Beijing to study “business culture and central banking,” as well as to participate in a seven-week language immersion course. After teaching an intermediate microeconomics course in the fall 2010 semester, in which over half of his students were Chinese, he had learned Mandarin well enough to drop phrases into his lectures.  But he wanted to get to the point where he could “’casually chat with’” and “’engage’” his students.

International students do indeed bring both diversity and new perspectives into the classroom. But while American students are encouraged to study abroad and learn about foreign cultures and languages, students from China are being catered to here by professors and administrators.  Faculty time previously spent on scholarly research is being used for training to “engage” a certain ethnic segment of the student body. Time previously spent with American students is spent on bringing international students up to speed.  Classroom discussions and lessons have to be slowed down for international students. Our students stand to lose more than they gain as their universities cater increasingly to international students.


12 thoughts on “How Chinese Students Are Changing Our Colleges

  1. Here’s a thought: drop empty words like “engage” and “perspective”; they are unworthy of serious minds. Does anyone imagine that Kant or Hegel were preoccupied with whether their students were “engaging” or “being engaged”? Or Foucault? Even though he routinely complained that his lectures were not capable of being interactive, he delivered them anyway and to standing-room only halls. The only non-French phrases I see him “dropping” in those lectures are Greek and Latin, languages germane to his own research and not to the sensibilities of his auditors.

    Of course it is too much to ask that our Left-dominated universities treat Chinese students as having rationally made the decision to enroll in US institutions despite their deficiencies in English. By rushing (very publicly so) to change the character of the places to appear more accommodating to all things non-Western (and speficially non-Anglo), the current caretakers of these institutions will eventually kill off what in them has made them historically so attractive to students–foreign and domestic–that they actually aspire to attend them.

  2. I want to make a response to the accusations that Ms. Mary Grabar has raised against Chinese students. Your essay was full of prejudice against Chinese students and an arrogance that comes from I don’t know where. This is totally nonsense to me. Do you know any Chinese students? Have you ever worked with Chinese students? Do you know that Chinese students are more hardworking than the international students from other countries? I want to tell you that it’s the Chinese students themselves who most understand Chinese students’ hardworking and honesty — not you, but the Chinese students themselves. You have no right to speak on this. The Chinese students have the right to speak. So please don’t raise such irresponsible accusations again. Chinese students welcome all well-meaning suggestions, but we reject all groundless accusations.

    1. Well, you certainly have learned something at an American college, how to attack instead of having a thoughtful discourse. Sloppy thinking is sloppy thinking and last I knew had nothing to do with ethnicity. It is the duty of the foreign student to learn the language of the country they are going to school in! Why would they come here if they didn’t want an education? Otherwise, they are behaving like the American students do, I want to learn what I want and I expect to be given a diploma because I paid for it! BTW do they have safe spaces in China?

    2. The whole point of this article was that US universities should not lower their standards or compromise their core missions in order to accommodate foreign students. This entire website (“Minding The Campus”) appears to address the unchecked leftism that is debilitating American universities. I am not sure that you understood the author’s point or the article’s context. Therefore, your outrage and insistence that no one should speak critically of Chinese students ironically plays into the criticism that many Chinese students lack sufficient English skills.

      Instead of asserting that the author has “no right to speak on this” (we are in America – not China), you would be better served by addressing the fact that cheating is 5 times more prevalent with Chinese students than American students in the universities where data is available. That is a fact and not a “groundless accusation.” Based on your resort to identity politics and lack of logical fact-based argumentation, it seems to me that you are a student who is ill-served by the current leftist state of American universities.

      1. You mention “unchecked leftism” in your comments. How right you are. In my experience Chinese students are very “collective” in their learning. It appears that they are taught from a young age to help each other in any way necessary, including sharing answers or cheating. They learn by copying from their neighbor. They are unaccustomed to the individual type of learning which is supposed to happen in American high schools and universities. It is interesting that the educational trends pushed on schools during the Obama era were all about mandating “student centered, cooperative learning” rather than teacher led instruction.

    3. As one who has served on the Committee on Academic Misconduct at a major public university, I can assure you that the problem of widespread and wholesale plagiarism by Chinese students is very real. “Hard working”?! Yes, they work very hard scouring the web for gobbets of English prose that they can cobble together for “their” (note the collective plural) term papers.
      Now for the more anecdotal … They also speed in parking garages in their new BMWs, wearing their new Tommy Hilfiger duds, and chain-smoking. I’ve been told that in the dorms at a major public university, they contemptuously pay the fines imposed for smoking, and just carry on smoking.
      The major land-grant institutions are abandoning their mission, under the Morrill Act of 1862, to “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life”. These words were meant to apply to the working classes of the very states within the USA that were to avail themselves of Federal land grants—not to the offspring of the nouveau riche tycoon classes of developing foreign nations. The abandonment of the Morrill mission has to some extent been forced upon land-grant universities by dwindling taxpayer support. But that decline in taxpayer funding now needs to be made into a major issue by those who decry the current pandering to moneyed foreigners whose kids, inarticulate and illiterate in our traditional medium of instruction, are now taking places away from better qualified, and often first-generational, college applicants. They are also forcing out of our public universities many minority students to whom our pedagogical efforts could be more productively, and more ethically, devoted.

    4. Another deleterious effect of the over-recruitment of Chinese students by tuition-hungry administrations of our great public universities is this: they are overwhelmingly concentrated in STEM fields. They avoid the linguistic and creative demands of the humanities, with their allied demands for independent, critical, original thought. Taking 1 of every 8 available places, they drastically skew college enrollments at terrible expense for the humanities disciplines. Rational and responsible academic stewardship of professorial provision in these disciplines becomes a hostage to these misfortunes of mismanaged admissions. Moreover, resources that could be devoted to (say) the teaching of foreign languages to domestic students get re-directed to remedial TOEFL for foreign students.

    5. I know many Chinese students, and I can confirm that they cheat at much higher rates than American students. I would say even higher than 5 times the rates of American students. I confirm the problems pointed out in this article from first-hand experiences.

    6. LOL…Hardworking? I’m at a top-30 university where I was taking a PhD course…so most of my classmates were PhD candidates while I was the only MS guy….and I noticed that most of the Chinese students who couldn’t even do simple integration/ODEs were getting fulls cores on the homework assignments. Later i got to know they had previous year’s solution key and the prof had never changed the question. Chinese students stand out clearly in their dishonesty and yet they think it’s ok. It is clearly a cultural problem among the chinese.

    7. I am a high school teacher. There are many Chinese students in our school. It has been my experience, and that of my colleagues, who are good people and not racist, that cheating and plagiarism is very prevalent among our Chinese students, unfortunately. This is not a racist statement. It is based directly on our observations.

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