Does Your Higher Education Institution Determine Your Long-Term Success?

Below is an edited English version of a Vietnamese article of mine that was published last month by Zing.vn.  A Vietnamese translation of an article by Professor Peter Gray, from which I quote, was subsequently published by Zing, which ranks 7th in Viet Nam, 353 in the world, and 62 in the “news and media” category.

Shalom (שלום), MAA


Success without integrity is failure.  -Unattributed

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Illustration:  Phượng Nguyễn, Zing

While this US college cheating scandal may come as a shock to many Vietnamese, who believe that the US system is merit-based, it is just one of a number of examples of corruption in the education system and elsewhere in society.  And while most of these activities are not illegal, many are unethical and unfair in a country that pays lip service to equity and fairness.

What’s probably most shocking from a US perspective is that these people got caught, along with their co-conspirators at various elite public and private institutions.  Wealthy parents, some famous, most not, paid Rick Singer, CEO of a company called Edge College & Career Network LLC and a nonprofit called the Key Worldwide Foundation, from $200,000 to $6.5 million to bribe coaches, fabricate admissions documents, such as athletic achievements (this included taking staged photos of playing various sports), and help their children cheat on their SAT and ACT exams.

In one case, a San Francisco winemaker allegedly paid $50,000 for a proctor to be flown to a test center in West Hollywood to correct his daughter’s SAT answers after she took the test, which she had been allowed to take over a number of days because of a psychologist’s note.  The father complained that his daughter’s score of 1360 out of 1600 was not high enough and subsequently agreed to pay $200,000 to get her into USC as a water polo recruit even though she no experience in the sport.

Some of the universities touched and tainted by this scandal, including a few that are familiar to Vietnamese, are Georgetown University, Harvard University. Stanford University, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas at Austin, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Wake Forest University, and Yale University.

When Your University Admission Letter is Accompanied by a Receipt

One widely publicized example of how money buys access to education in the US is how Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, gained admission to Harvard University.  In 2005, Daniel Golden, a Boston-based senior editor at ProPublica, wrote a book entitled The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges–and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates in which he exposed the corrupt admissions practices that favor the wealthy, the powerful, and the famous.

As he wrote in a 2016 article published shortly after the election of Donald Trump, “My book exposed a grubby secret of American higher education: that the rich buy their under-achieving children’s way into elite universities with massive, tax-deductible donations.”

Golden reached out to administrators at Kushner’s private high school, The Frisch School, in New Jersey.  As one former official put it, “There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard.  His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not.”

Jared Kushner’s father, Charles, a New Jersey real estate developer and New York University (NYU) alumnus, had pledged $2.5 million to Harvard University not long before his son, a mediocre private school student, was admitted.  As US comedian, Bill Maher, quipped in a sketch about Jared Kushner, “One clue your enrollment may not entirely based be merit-based:  When your acceptance letter comes with a receipt.”

Another way that wealthy US Americans ensure their children’s admission to Ivy League and comparable US institutions is legacy admissions, also known as “affirmative action for the rich,” a preference that most top 100 colleges and universities give to students who have a familial relationship to alumni of that institution, i.e., a mother or father who has a degree from the school in question.   Legacy students comprise about 14% of Harvard’s undergraduate student body and are accepted at five times the rate of their nonlegacy peers.  This translates into a nearly 34% acceptance rate vs. under 6% for those without the same connections.

It Doesn’t Matter What College Your Kids Attend (in the USA)

In a recent article entitled Back Off: It Doesn’t Matter What College Your Kids Attend, Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College (MA, USA), referred to high school students as “the most stressed-out people in America, 83% of them attribute their stress to school.”  This also applies to children from upper class families in which pressure to achieve is especially high.  So why are some parents willing to do anything, including breaking the law, to “help” to guarantee that their sons and daughters will get admitted to prestigious institutions?  Because they believe that is the only key to success, however they define it?  For the bragging rights that accrue? So that their children will follow in their academic footsteps?  Does it really make a difference in terms of future income and happiness?

In two large-scale studies conducted by Stacy Dale, a mathematician, and Alan Krueger, an economist, of students who entered college in 1976 and another group in 1989, their research question was this:  If people have the same socioeconomic background, academic ability and motivation, will those who attend an elite institution of higher education make more money later in life than those who go to a non-elite school?  “Other things being equal, attending an elite school resulted in no income advantage over attending a less elite school, neither in the short term nor in the long term.”

Gray also referenced a 2014 survey by Gallup and Purdue University that assessed the extent to which 30,000 higher education graduates were, according to them, enthusiastic and committed to their work and thriving in their personal lives.  The key finding was that there were no significant relationships between their feedback and the type of college or university they attended, large or small, public or private, highly selective or less selective.

The good news for parents and students, at least in the US, is that it isn’t the type of school young people attend but what they do while they’re there that makes a difference in their lives.  What’s important is the nature and quality of their experiences in and outside of the classroom.  Professor Gray’s advice to parents was simple:  “Ease up.  Reassure your kids rather than stress them.  For happiness and meaning, they may need to spend less time grubbing for grades and more time pursuing their own interests.”

In other words, one of the primary goals of young people, with understanding and support from their parents, teachers, and others, should be to find their ikigai, an existential sweet spot that is the intersection of that which you love, that which are good at, that which the world needs, and that for which you can be paid.  That is how success should be defined in any country.

 

Mark A. Ashwill is an international educator who has lived in Vietnam since 2005. He is the co-founder and managing director of Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company with offices in Hanoi and HCMC.  Ashwill served as country director of the Institute of International Education (IIE)-Vietnam from 2005-09. 

“Ethical agents should support direct student admissions”

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Students occasionally ask one co-author, who has lived and worked in Viet Nam since 2005, whether or not they can apply directly. The answer is an enthusiastic ‘Yes’, if they feel sufficiently confident.

The original working title, Imagine a World Without Agents, We Wonder If You Can – with a grateful nod to John Lennon – was probably too long, which is why the editor changed it to Ethical agents should support direct student admissions.  (Yes, Imagine was intended to be provocative but not clickbait. :-)) 

Actually, Eddie West and I are referring not only to agents but to everyone involved in international student recruitment.  While direct application is not for everyone, as we point out, it is a positive trend we see in Viet Nam and elsewhere among certain types of students.

This article is the third in a trilogy about what we identify as the “fatal flaw” in commissions-based recruitment.  The other two – in descending chronological order – are as follows:

International recruitment – Are education agents welcome? (8.3.19)

An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment (26.10.18)

We’ll be discussing these issues at NAFSA at two events, the first an unofficial seminar and the second a general session.  Follow this link for more information, including online registration for the two seminars.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Commissions-Based International Student Recruitment Agents: Is There a Better Way?

Wednesday, May 29, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

 

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If you’re planning to attend the 2019 annual conference of NAFSA:  Association of International Educators in Washington, D.C. and you’re interested in this topic, mark your conference calendar!  

Join me, Eddie West, session chair and Executive Director, International Programs, University of California-Berkeley Extension, and Mayumi Kowta, Director, International Programs California State University Channel Islands, for a lively discussion about how the “fatal flaw” in commissions-based recruitment can be addressed.  For more information about this, check out a 10-18 article that Eddie and I wrote, An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment.  

Follow this link to see the official conference description of our session, including the abstract (also below) and the learning objectives.  

More colleges and universities are contracting with commissions-based student recruitment agents than ever before. This development is great news for agents, and mostly good news for their partner schools. But for students being advised by agents the experience encompasses the good, the bad, and the ugly. Can we do better?

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

“The shift of Vietnamese students to Canada marches on”

20190320083629583_5Here is my latest essay for University World News.  If you like the teaser below, follow this link to read the article in its entirety.  This is a follow-up to an April 2018 article I wrote entitled Vietnamese students look at the US and head north (editor’s title).  

I placed a gentleman’s bet with myself that the number of young Vietnamese studying in Canada would top 20,000 last year. Based on the latest statistics for 2018 released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, it looks like I won, much to the dismay of Canada’s main friendly competitor for Vietnamese students, the United States of America. 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“International education ‘number one priority’ for US bureau”

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At the February IIE Summit 2019, Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), US State Department, told her audience that international education is the #1 priority for ECA.  Her deputy, Caroline Casagrande, confirmed that “additional resources” have been obtained to promote outbound and inbound study abroad.  What “additional resources,” I wonder? 

In terms of inbound students, I’m afraid the horse has left the barn and that whatever support the US State Department has to offer is too little, too late.  The elephant in the room of the IIE Summit was, of course, Donald Trump and MAGA, who really don’t care about international students, at best.  Naturally, no one at IIE can say that because one of the golden rules in the NGO world is “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”  Since IIE received 78.2% of its 2017 revenue from “government grants,” that’s a lot of food!  (That percentage was once heading south in the interest of diversification, i.e., don’t put too many of your budgetary eggs in one basket – to the credit of IIE – but I guess some things are not meant to be.)  

In fact, the view of the vocal nativist minority may shift from not caring to wanting to fewer international students to study in the US following in the footsteps of a recent survey in Australia in which 54% of the respondents, admittedly barely a simple majority, thought that international student numbers should not be increased.  

If international education is going to be the “number one priority” for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), it is probably in word only.  As usual, US educational institutions are on their own and, in fact, are saddled with the additional burden of having to work against the negatives that have piled up during the Trump administration in- and outside the Beltway.  

Following a point/counterpoint format, here are some additional observations:

“We face growing international competition to attract the world’s globally mobile students. While we are already making great strides to respond to these new challenges, we must step up our game.”  What are the “great strides” ECA is making, pray tell?

“At ECA our goals are clear,” said Royce, underlining that US government is committed to both outbound and inbound exchanges – and explaining that president Donald Trump began penning letters to all US Department of State exchange participants in 2018.  A symbolic act that, in Trump’s case, only means he likes to see his name appear in as many documents as possible.

ECA also “actively supports” America’s competitive education advantage through its Education USA network, which operates in 180 countries, with 435 centres and 550 advisors to promote American colleges and universities abroad, she reminded.  While EducationUSA is useful, it is hardly a competitive advantage.  On a related issue, I hope ECA thinks long and hard about its decision to work with education agents, embraced by the pro-agent crowd but not by EducationUSA in the field.    

However, cost is a “leading reason that students decide not to pursue US study” Royce said, and ECA “wants to raise awareness abroad that there are study options at many price points”.  Cost is one of many factors contributing to the steady decline of international students choosing the USA as an overseas study destination.  Others include gun violence, the widespread perception that the US is not as open and welcoming as it once was and, in the case of countries, Trump himself, who has insulted a long and growing list of peoples and countries.    

The fact that IIE awarded ECA the first centennial medal is yet another example of that organization kissing the hand that feeds, given how much of IIE’s budget still comes from the US State Department.  

Finally, as with the rhetorical open arms embrace of education agents, announced by the same two ECA political appointees last December, we’ll have to wait and see if they’re planning to walk the walk.  If so, what will the impact be, if any?  I won’t hold my breath.  The latest is that EducationUSA may provide training to education agents.  That could be a good thing if it’s done in the right way and agents are probibited from using text or images from such events in an attempt at honor by association.  As mentioned in a recent co-authored article, the devil is in the details.  

Postscript:  Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the UK government has published a new International Education Strategy that outlines “plans to increase students numbers and income generated from international education.”  While I’d prefer less emphasis be placed on the revenue benefit of hosting large numbers of international students, I understand that’s the key selling point for most policymakers.  Having said that, the UK and other governments that value international students have something that the US government does not currently have – a STRATEGY.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

“Foreign student numbers should be cut, say Australians”

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A national survey, commissioned by the University of New South Wales (UNSW), unexpectedly revealed the growing public antagonism to the international visitors.

So much so that a majority of people now believe the government should call a halt to any increase in their numbers.

I wonder when we’ll hear this from the MAGA crowd and its Dear Leader in the US?  Is it the next nativist shoe to drop?  Perhaps a survey waiting to be conducted and, if the result mirrors that of Australia, yet another nail in the coffin of US international student recruitment.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA