College Administrator Resigns Over Too Many Chinese Students

I usually regard alarmist stories about Chinese college students in the U.S.with suspicion, but this particular story about a University of San Francisco (USF) administrator resigning over aggressive recruitment of Chinese students seems to have some substance. Dayle Smith, dean of undergraduate studies in USF’s school of management, resigned over “the aggressive recruitment of Chinese” students. 781 out of 10017 students there are Chinese nationals, mostly in the business school and representing an increase from 589.  So what’s the problem?

The problem, some at the university are saying, is how to balance academic integrity, diversifying the student body, and the full tuition that the Chinese students are willing to pay. Many of the Chinese are said to have limited English skills (some reportedly needed headsets for English to Mandarin translation during freshman orientation) but are paying full tuition with no financial aid or scholarships. USF Business School Dean Mike Webber says that the increase in Chinese students shouldn’t be a concern as some of them have been admitted on a conditional basis, but admits:

But given that so many of these students have weak English skills and are disproportionately from one country, we are going to be faced with some unique pedagogical and cultural challenges.

Smith was also said to be worried about how USF’s way of handling those issues would “dilute the educational experience for all.”

I was surprised that USF  would be where something like this would happen. It has become increasingly more selective as the University of California and California State system has deteriorated and more people turn to private colleges. USF talks about diversifying their campus, but it is already diverse, with 34% white, 23% Asian American, 16% international, 5% African American, and 19% Hispanic.  Perhaps they were looking at diversifying their income sources as 57% of students get financial aid.

Is the educational experience hurt by having students with poor English skills but good payment records? Wu Jingyao, a former USF student, said that she wasn’t surprised about the translation headsets. She said that in some of her classes, 80 percent of students were Chinese and did not communicate in English, adding that she tried to stay away from those classrooms.  She adds:

USF should admit a smaller percentage of Chinese applicants, as we pay for an English-speaking environment and prefer to be classmates of native speakers in America.

Jennifer Turpin, USF provost and vice president for academic affairs says that they have raised their admission requirements for English language proficiency, saying:

It seems counterintuitive, but even with lower admission rates and higher standards, we experienced a significant increase this year in the number of Chinese students overall.

What do you all think?  Is USF getting too many Chinese students, to the detriment of the educational experience and even to the detriment of those Chinese students, as Wu Jingyao points out? My take is that they are getting close to that point if they haven’t already crossed it – note that there are more students from China than African American students. In the long run, USF also runs the risk of diluting their own product and reputation, especially if getting into the school  has more to do with ability to pay full tuition rather than the ability to be fully fluent in the language of instruction.

(Flickr Photo Credit: kellypretzer)

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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