How a Chinese company bought access to admissions officers at top U.S. colleges

dipont-logoKudos to the four (4) Reuters reporters for their outstanding work on this investigative report.  Only when this type of unethical behavior sees the publication light of day and the proverbial shit hits the fan is there any action, in most cases.  While there are some Vietnamese companies that would love to have this kind of reach and influence, I don’t think any do…yet.

There are companies that are happy to write statements of purpose (SOPs) and “teacher” letters of recommendation for students whose goal is to gain admission to a highly selective institution, and are richly rewarded for doing so. It’s not that the young people in question are poor students, it’s that an “enhanced profile” may result in more scholarship funding.

no cheatingParents and students who work with these types of companies can be viewed as willing co-conspirators.  The former view this partnership in unethical conduct and the upfront costs associated with it (think 5-10-15k or much more) as an “investment” in their children’s future.  Ideally, the ROI is a generous scholarship package and, of course, bragging rights.

Does it work?  In most cases, yes.  Why?  Because US colleagues do not have enough time or resources to verify as part of the “trust but verify” process.  This explains the growing popularity of video interviews because, to a certain extent, seeing and hearing are believing.


P.S.:  Gotta love the name of the offending company. Kinda reminds me of the name of a certain famous family associated with my home state of Delaware.  Hint:  think gunpowder and chemicals. 😉

‘American Universities Are Addicted to Chinese Students’

A startling number of Chinese students are getting kicked out of American colleges. According to a white paper published by WholeRen, a Pittsburgh-based consultancy, an estimated 8,000 students from China were expelled from universities and colleges across the United States in 2013-4. The vast majority of these students—around 80 percent—were removed due to cheating or failing their classes.

As long as universities have existed, students have found a way to get expelled from them. But the prevalence of expulsions of Chinese students should be a source of alarm for American university administrators. According to the Institute of International Education, 274,439 students from China attended school in the United States in 2013-4, a 16 percent jump from the year before. Chinese students represent 31 percent of all international students in the country and contributed an estimated $22 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014.

Here’s thechinese students in the us story du jour from The Atlantic about the leading country of origin, China, whose students comprise nearly one-third of the 886,052 international students in the US.  It’s no wonder they attract a disproportionate amount of attention from the media, both positive and negative. In this case, it’s the latter – China as international education whipping boy.

While words like “startling” and “massive” are bandied about, the actual percentage of Chinese students who were expelled in 2013-14 because of cheating or failing their classes was about 2.9%, which means the other 97.1% were at least meeting minimum standards and most doing considerably better than that.  (Cheating is a national pastime in much of Asia so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that Asian students cheat in the US, along with the US peers, albeit to a lesser extent.  What makes China unique and what increases the likelihood that more of its students will be expelled is that 1 in 3 international students in the US is Chinese!)

One thoughtful international education colleague provided some much-needed context with this reaction to the article:

Frankly, I was surprised that the number wasn’t even higher. The entire education regime in China is fundamentally different from the US system, so to expect similar results/outcomes when Chinese students study in the US system is ludicrous to begin with. Add to that, the radical differences in the extra-academic environment, and 8,000 seems low to me. It is to the credit of the Chinese that the number is not higher. This is what the article should have focused on.
A more refined focus would have highlighted how the Chinese, on a per-student basis, actually shift the GPA curve higher, and this is true at every institution that admits Chinese students. They have a higher on-time college completion rate than US students, they pay full tuition (except for the merit scholarship students), and they do not participate in the carnal excesses of Greek loser life. They are often tutors and class/lab assistants in the STEM fields. And in the classroom they contribute a diversity of perspectives and opinions that simply do not exist among US students.
The 8,000 seems significant, but there was no breakdown of how many of those students were expelled for willful delinquency versus expelled for poor academic performance resulting from depression, difficulty in adjusting/assimilating, making mistakes due to lack of knowledge of the campus culture, poor institutional fit due to unscrupulous agents/admissions offices, inexperienced and ignorant student service administrators/staff/faculty, etc.
I would like to see the expulsion numbers for the Saudi students, who contribute far less academically and who seem to knowingly and intentionally get into more trouble for non-academic reasons (and even academic dishonesty reasons) far out of proportion to their numbers.

2-15 top 10 countriesAnother big story is the sheer number of Chinese students enrolled in many of America’s colleges and universities, which has created a several problems.  One is that some of those institutions that have opted to pick the low-hanging fruit have become victims of their own success.  They have Chinese ghettos that make it difficult for many Chinese students to adjust and continue to improve their English proficiency.  (Many Vietnamese and Chinese parents share this concern, and would prefer to send their children to schools that do not have too many students from their countries.)

There are other schools that have chosen to limit their Chinese enrollment in the interest of diversity and recruit from other key markets, including Vietnam.  This explains in part the growing interest in Vietnamese students and those from other countries.  It’s not all about “showin’ me the money,” i.e., tuition dollars and related financial contributions.

So, while the title is juicy and guaranteed to garner thousands of Facebook likes and Tweets, the reality is more complex and nuanced.  Wise institutions follow the path of diversification to the benefit of their students, communities and reputation.


Identifying and Analyzing your Institution’s Marketing Opportunity

intead logoBelow is a repost of an Intead Insight by Ben Waxman & Michael Waxman-Lenz  about a presentation made at the recent Intead NYC Global Marketing Workshop.

Chinese students submit their SAT scores to twice as many colleges than international students from other countries. What does that mean for your yield enrollment marketing and your yield projections?

Elevator Summary

  • International student mobility expected to increase from 4.3M in 2011 to 8.5M students by 2025
  • On average, Chinese students submit their SAT scores to 12 universities, Indian students to 8 and Canadians to 5
  • Check out College Board’s web traffic to understand the most attractive US university brands for Indian and Chinese students. Interestingly, 6 of the top 10 most reviewed profiles are the same choices for students from both countries
  • SAT registrations and student enrollment from China grew by 64% from 2011 to 2013. From India the registrations grew 36%, while Indian student enrollment declined 9% during that 2 year period.

Clay Hensley from College Board and Christine Farrugia from the Institute of International Education presented at our INTEAD Global Marketing Workshop for Academic Leaders last week. They provided a highly informative overview from their rich internal and external data sets.

Chart 1 (below) displays the average number of SAT scores sent per student by country. The numbers show a remarkable difference with clear implications for your school’s yield management after admitting students from different countries. On average, Chinese students submit scores to 12 universities, while a student from the United Arab Emirates, UK or Nigeria will submit less than five. You notice that the difference does not appear income-based.

Frequency of SAT Score Sends Per Student

[Vietnam ranks 4th after China, South Korea and Taiwan with 8.68 SAT scores sent per student.]

Chart 2 is a broad observation of the appeal of the US education super brands around the world. College Board showed the top 10 most viewed university profiles by students from India and China. The data is based on visits to their BigFuture website. Six of the top 10 universities are identical across these two countries and include Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, Berkeley, NYU and Cornell. Indian students have a preference for technical programs and so the inclusion of MIT and Cal Tech may not surprise.

A large share of Chinese students also view two Midwestern universities: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Michigan. While the other 4,500 US academic institutions do not have the global name recognition, the entire US university system benefits from the “halo effect” of these academic “super brands.”

The reality is, these super brands can only accommodate a very small number of students overall, much less international students. Their attractiveness increases US competitiveness overall as the US becomes the chosen destination and other schools have the opportunity to be considered. As online programs gain further attention, these global super brands will increase their reach and brand position around the world.

The corresponding data for India show a 28% increase in web visitors, and 36% SAT registration growth, while the enrolled students from India declined by 9% during the period from 2011 to 2013.

So the intention and interest to study in the US seems to have continued to grow while the realization of that aspiration lagged. What do you think are the main reasons for that gap? Post a comment below this blog to engage in the discussion.

Much productive work can be done by all of us if Clay and Christine’s hopeful outlook is correct for continued growth in student mobility. They quoted a potential group of 8M students studying outside their home country by 2025, up from 4M in 2011.