Two-Way Street: Breaking Bad College Recruiting Habits in China

Following up a September inquiry into the disconnect between Chinese students and American universities, The Chronicle of Higher investigates the agency system which helps Chinese students navigate the U.S. college admissions process:

Education agents have long played a role in sending Chinese students abroad, dating back decades to a time when American dollars were forbidden in China and only agents could secure the currency to pay tuition. Admission experts say they can provide an important service, acting as guides to an application process that can seem totally, well, foreign. Application materials are frequently printed only in English. Chinese students are often baffled by the emphasis on extracurriculars and may have never written a personal essay. Requiring recommendations from guidance counselors makes little sense in a country where few high schools have one on staff. Many assume that the U.S. News & World Report issue on rankings is an official government publication.

But while there are certainly aboveboard agents and applications, other recruiters engage in fraudulent behavior. An administrator at one high school in Beijing says agents falsified her school’s letterhead to produce doctored transcripts and counterfeit letters of recommendation, which she discovered when a parent called to complain about an agent’s charging a fee for documents from the school. James E. Lewis, director of international admissions and recruiting at Kansas State University, says he once got a clutch of applications clearly submitted by a single agent, with all fees charged to the same bank branch, although the students came from several far-flung cities. The grades on three of the five transcripts, he says, were identical.

The article cites a report published last year by consulting firm Zinch China, which concluded that 70% of Chinese applicants have somebody else write their essays and 50% have falsified academic transcripts. Also in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, High School Deputy Principal claims that American colleges must adapt their admissions processes if they are to improve the effectiveness of their recruiting in China:

To be fair, American college recruiters in China feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of cheating, lying, and fraud: Study abroad is big business in China, and young Ivy League graduates write essays for Chinese applicants while many a Chinese public school fakes transcripts and recommendation letters. Amid such chaos, it’s understandable why American colleges fall back on standardized tests. But these tests tell only half the story. To really judge a Chinese student’s potential to thrive on campus, American colleges and universities could add depth to the admissions process by including an oral interview, one designed to challenge Chinese students with focused questions that test their empathy, imagination, and resilience. Those American colleges that choose to do so will discover that their new Chinese recruits, even though their test scores may suggest limited English, will quickly adapt to a culture of critical thinking and intellectual inquiry in a way they failed to adapt to the Chinese education system of obedience and conformity.