Foreign Students in U.S.

International educators discuss emerging countries for international student recruitment

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At gathering of international educators, panelists discuss emerging destinations for international student recruitment.

New protocols requiring verification of SEVIS status cause delays at ports of entry

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Students and exchange scholars are being referred to secondary inspection under policies put in place after the Boston Marathon bombings. Reported delays range from 20 minutes to three hours.

Concerns about international student safety come to fore

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Kerry says Japanese students are deterred by fears of gun violence. Chinese and Saudi Arabian students are among victims of Boston bombings. Does growth in international student population come despite concerns on safety?


Washington State lawmakers propose surcharge on international student tuition

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In Washington state, legislators propose a 20 percent surcharge on international student tuition. The universities worry that students will stop coming.

Study finds small gains in international graduate applications

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Report finds only marginal increase in applications from outside the U.S. to graduate schools. China -- source of large increases in recent years -- shows decline.

Essay on going to China to promote a Christian liberal arts institution

It's a Wednesday morning in October, and as I stand at the airport gate I hear the dreaded news over the loudspeaker: "Your flight has been canceled." Only in my case, I don't understand the words, because I'm standing in a terminal in Beijing airport trying to get to Hangzhou. The news comes out in muffled Mandarin, which might as well be Martian to me. But a sympathetic British gentleman gives me the translation, and I trudge back to the ticket office to figure out Plan B.

I'm in China for the same reason that many other North American college officials have visited in recent years: to tap into the growing pool of millions of Chinese students looking for a college degree in the United States.

The number of foreign students in the U.S. continues to rise, and China, of course, represents a major source of the trend. In 2010-11, overall enrollment of Chinese students increased by 23 percent over the previous year. Not just large public universities or the prominent private universities, but private Christian colleges such as my own university, Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are seeking to get in the game. One of our peer institutions in the Midwest, Cedarville University, recently attracted attention when it opened up a recruiting office in Beijing.

Much of the motivation to attract international students stems from our mission. Just about every Christian college includes a commitment to globalization somewhere in its mission statement and strategic plan. As the locus of world Christianity continues to shift to the developing world, Christian colleges in the U.S. are recognizing that their future depends on ensuring that their own student body better reflects the diversity of the global church rather than the graduating class of a suburban Indianapolis high school. Some have been doing this for a while; others, like Cornerstone, are seeking to make up for lost time. Tucked firmly in the middle-class Dutch enclave of West Michigan, and with an international student population hovering around 2 percent, we clearly have room for improvement.

Of course, it's not simply about a commitment to globalization. As universities plod their way through the Great Recession and maintain enrollment by raising discount rates, foreign countries represent a potential source for attracting what my CFO loves: "full-pay" students, or at least fuller-pay than the average American student. So as both China's economy and its Christian churches expand, private colleges in the U.S. are increasingly eyeing the Far East as a recruiting region. This is one of those all-too-rare occasions where principle and pragmatism actually play on the same team.

So like many others, I find myself in Beijing. But like the guy at the fishing tournament buzzing off in his bass boat to a secret cove to land the winning catch, I'm heading 500 miles south to Hangzhou, a "medium-sized" city of over 6,000,000 that is home to several major universities and one of the largest evangelical churches in China. A contact of mine, a West Michigan native who teaches English at Hangzhou Normal University, has invited me for a visit and has lined up meetings with professors, pastors, students, and academic administrators. Unfortunately, the canceled flight scrambles my schedule and I don't arrive until midafternoon.

As a typical North American, I'm hoping to go straight to a conference room and get down to business. But this is China, where such things are eased into gently. So I find myself standing in the middle of the track and field stadium of Hangzhou Normal University observing "sports day" on campus. This is essentially a large intramural athletic event, accompanied by marching music seemingly from the days of Chairman Mao, which sparks passionate cheering from the 10,000 or so students. I get there just in time to see my six-foot-tall American host stick out like a sore thumb as the only white person running the 5,000 kilometer race. Unfortunately, his size makes it difficult to hide when he, along with several others, is lapped by the leaders.

This clearly isn't Beijing, and as I walk around the event and am introduced to college students, it seems that my hosts and I are the only Americans in the vicinity. Perhaps I've found an untapped cove after all. My optimism grows when I visit with Reverend Paul, a pastor at Chong Yi church, a thriving mega-church whose imposing cathedral is capped with a 20-foot-high gold cross that is visible from miles away (so much for my notion of the underground church in China). Reverend Paul graduated from a seminary in China, but he seems unfamiliar with the notion of Christian-based undergraduate education. Hence we discuss the possibility of my returning in the future to talk to parents and young people about higher education in U.S. Though Chinese students value higher education primarily for economic reasons, surely Chinese Christians would appreciate a university that develops the soul as well as the mind.

Despite the positive signs, however, it seems that recruiting in China may be more complicated than I thought. In the evening, I have dinner with some local businessmen and the dean of the School of Health Management at Hangzhou Normal. When I distribute literature about Cornerstone, the dean asks, "What's your ranking?" A bit taken aback, I ask which sort of ranking he's referring to. It becomes clear that he has the U.S. News & World Report rankings in mind, which are, for him, the basic source of information about the quality of a university in America. I embark on a rambling discourse about how there are a variety of different rankings out there, that a university's ranking depends largely on the category to which it is assigned, and that as a teaching-centered university we focus more on student engagement and assessments such as the National Survey of Student Engagement. Such remarks seem to make little impression on him.

In fact, the Chinese, I discover, place tremendous weight on college rankings. In Hangzhou, it’s a badge of honor that one of their universities, Zhejiang University, is one of the top-ranked universities in the country. When I'm introduced to professors, I learn not only from what university they received their degree, but how high that university is ranked. Even high schools, I discover, are prioritized by their ranking. As we drive around the city and the local high schools are pointed out to me, they are mentioned along with their ranking among the other universities in the city, as in, "That's number 2" or "That's number 13."

From a first impression, at least, it seems that education in China is beset by the sort of self-reinforcing, "one size fits all" ranking system that has been decried in books such as Academically Adrift and The Innovative University. When I inquire about the basis on which the city's high schools are ranked, my hosts reply, "by how many of their graduates get into the top-ranked universities." As to what criteria determine a top-ranked university, I was given two basic factors — the number of research papers that professors publish and the amount of research grants the faculty bring in.

When I describe different measures of academic quality based on effective teaching in the liberal arts, faculty-student mentoring, challenging students to evaluate and perhaps change their beliefs, and nurturing growth in character as well as intellect, they seem to be new concepts to them. But they’re notions that, I hope, may gain some traction in China in the future.

Later in the evening, as a dean and I walk among the chestnut trees along Hangzhou's West Lake, he shares his thoughts on the future of higher education in China. As much of China has been emerging from poverty and underdevelopment, he observes, university education has been perceived solely in utilitarian terms as a ticket to economic success. As more Chinese become affluent, however, they are finding that there is more to life than economic success -- and thus that perhaps college is not just about making money but about making one a different kind of person.

So perhaps there's a niche in China that universities such as mine can fill. If the Chinese are simply looking for a degree from the U.S. as a path to a good job, then it's difficult to see how we can compete with our larger neighbors down the road in Ann Arbor and East Lansing. But if it's about becoming a different kind of person, then we're playing on our home turf.

A Cornerstone professor who teaches creativity tells me that the first step in the innovative process is not problem-solving but problem-finding. My visit to China may not have given us the key to internationalizing our campus, but it may help us start by defining the problem: Before we can talk to the Chinese about the value of Cornerstone University, we may have to convince them of the value of a liberal arts education in the first place.

Rick Ostrander is provost of Cornerstone University.


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International students complain about the quality of education at an unaccredited California institution

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An unaccredited California institution lacks approval by the state to operate, but is allowed to enroll international students -- some of whom say the education is seriously substandard.


Study finds scientific benefits from labs that are internationally diverse

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Teams with foreign students from many parts of the world produce more papers and receive more citations, study finds.

Filmmaker explores international students' post-graduation challenges

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A filmmaker explores the struggles of international students who try to stay in America after graduation.

Essay on how colleges should respond to racism against international students

Neo-racism toward international students, such as the recent incidents at Michigan State and Ohio State Universities, highlights the challenges higher education leaders face in creating a positive campus climate for international students. Many international students live in a parallel social world, shut off from friendships with American peers. When a neo-racist act occurs, international students – and all students, except for a few – look to campus administrators and faculty for ethical academic leadership. Even if no major incident has occurred, campus leaders are responsible for creating a positive climate for the burgeoning number of international students arriving at their institutions.

While there is no "one size fits all" approach, we offer for consideration three "educational encounters" that make a positive difference in the lives of international students. Our recommendations are primarily based on analysis of the results from the Global Perspective Inventory (GPI), a multi-university survey that examines the relationship between educational experiences and global learning of over 70,000 U.S. undergraduates, including almost 3,000 international students. We are both involved in this research project. Drawing on key findings from our research, we propose three educational encounters that campus leaders may consider to create more inclusive campus climates for international students.

1. Educational encounters that involve discussion and dialogue enhance international students’ positive perceptions of campus climate.

Of the 12 high-impact educational practices we have examined, courses that include opportunities for dialogue are the most strongly associated with positive perceptions of the campus climate for international students. International students who have taken courses that involve dialogue among students with different backgrounds and beliefs report a greater sense of connection to their host institution, higher grade-point-averages, and are more likely to form relationships with cross-cultural peers outside the classroom.

Comprehensive internationalization efforts must consider how "encounters with difference that make a difference" may become more pervasive in the classroom. We know a significant number of students -- both domestic and international students -- never meaningfully engage in cross-cultural dialogue in the classroom. Such encounters evoke cognitive dissonance; alter existing ideas, views, and sense of self; and encourage new forms of interaction with others who are different from oneself. They invite students to interact with others across cultural, social, economic, and religious divides; and to reflect, share, and build on their experiences, as a means of dealing with cognitive dissonance. All kinds of courses may incorporate dialogue. For example, an advanced-level business course where students discuss diverse perspectives on leadership can be just as meaningful for international students as a discussion-based course addressing issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, or religion. Group work involving student-to-student discussion outside the classroom may not have the same benefits as facilitated classroom dialogue, however. Out-of-class group projects, if not well designed, can exacerbate language and cultural issues between students, leaving international students feeling more isolated and dejected.

2. Educational encounters that provide a secure base of support for cross-cultural exploration enhance international students’ positive perceptions of campus climate.

International students’ perceptions of campus climate do not solely result from their interactions with American students; their perceptions also reflect whether they connect with peers who share their cultural heritage. International students who engage in activities reflecting their cultural background view their campus more positively and report an enhanced sense of well-being. Additionally, friendships with other international students play a critical role in staving off depression, improving academic performance, and increasing student satisfaction with their college experience. A strong social network of international student peers provides a secure base to begin exploring friendships with American students; international students tap into each other’s social networks to make new American and international friends. International students who regularly participate in organizations reflecting their own culture are more likely to participate in activities
reflecting another culture, as well as to feel both challenged and supported by their college or university.

3. Educational encounters that involve partnerships among international student offices, counseling centers, and other student support services enhance international students’ positive perceptions of campus climate.

Mental health issues, such as depression, loneliness, and anxiety, are well-documented in research on international students. Needless to say, discriminatory experiences adversely affect international students’ perceptions of their campus. According to our research, international students who experience discrimination are two-thirds less likely to discuss feelings and share problems with peers. Faculty, peer mentors, and international educators, therefore, must be the first line of support for observing if an international student appears distressed. Communication and coordination between leaders in international student offices, counseling centers, faculty development offices, and student support services is essential for comprehensive support. Partnering units can work to connect existing efforts by co-sponsoring programs, offering faculty development opportunities, and organizing campus-wide conversations on diversity issues. Partnering not only better-serves international students, it invites educators across campus to learn how they might adapt their existing services to become more responsive to international students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Time For Action

Some may argue that cash-strapped colleges and universities have rushed into international student recruitment, driven by tuition dollars, without fully considering its implications for student support services, residence life, or undergraduate education. Regardless of the various motivations for expanding international student enrollment, this much is clear: international recruitment must be matched with real institutional change. If the rise in the number of international students studying in the U.S. is to strengthen teaching and learning, leaders must identify the types of educational experiences that contribute to international students' positive perceptions of their campus’ climate and their learning and development.

Many campus leaders want to act, yet have little research to guide conversations about the kinds of interventions that will make a meaningful difference. We believe focusing on experiences that contribute to international students’ positive perceptions of their campuses offers one entry point for catalyzing conversations about comprehensive internationalization. The growing presence of international students, while introducing new challenges, also creates new opportunities to strengthen higher education’s academic mission, where international students contribute to the learning and development of all students.


Chris R. Glass is assistant professor of educational foundations and leadership at Old Dominion University. Larry A. Braskamp is professor emeritus and former senior vice president for academic affairs at Loyola University Chicago.

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