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EAST meetsWEST $

The recent explosion in full-pay Chinese student applicants provides U.S. independent schools with dollars, diversity, and highly motivated students but is it a win-win? BY PETER MERTZ
China, the worlds most populous country, with 1.4 billion people, is poised, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) ofcials, to overtake Americas economy by 2016. Last year, Forbes magazine conrmed that China has a staggering $3.2 trillion in cash. The Economist predicts China will become the worlds largest importer by 2014. By 2015, China could have north of 600 million middle class citizens, or twice the entire U.S. population. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports there are currently 124,794 active Chinese students in American universities at the undergraduate and masters levels. Thats a stunning jump from only ve years ago, when 10,000 Chinese undergraduate students were here. This educational explosion is eclipsed only by Chinese enrollment at American private high schools, which grew from 65 in 2005 to 6,725 in 2011: more than a 100-fold increase. The largest emerging middle class in world history wants to give their prized children the best education offered on the planet today. That means sending them to the schools where you work.

First, absorb the stats:

Independent high schools position themselves to be better suited for admission to American competitive higher educationstill the gold standard across the world, says Peter Upham, Executive Director of The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) in Asheville, North Carolina, which represents about 300 U.S. boarding schools. Many independent schools have rich traditions of diversity. Their international student populations are an important part of their schools vibrant communities. For these schools, having culturally diverse populations helps create graduates who are global citizens. But as with every cultural aspect of an independent school, there is an attendant nancial reality. In this case, for certain independent schools struggling with a lack of resources and lack of demand, the large number of Chinese parents who are willing and able to pay full price represent a solution. The Chinese have money, says Chuck Adams, a recent board president of 110-student Verde Valley School in Sedona, Arizona, and theyre seeing the value in an American boarding school education. Today, 27 percent of Verde Valleys students are Chinese. In recent years, some independent schools have dramatiWWW.NBOA.NET


cally increased their international student populations. For example, according to a recent article on, the Cheshire Academy in Connecticut increased its Chinese boarders from ve in 2008 to 102 in 2010. But what appears to be a win-winU.S. schools getting diversity, dollars, and highly motivated students, and Chinese kids getting a top-notch educationhas been challenging on several fronts, and the rapid inux of students coming from East to West has sent some members of the American educational community scrambling for solutions.

Cultural Di erences

Ill never forget the looks on the faces of my Chinese students, says Mary Marquez Bell, Vice President for Enrollment Services at the State University of New Yorks Old Westbury campus on Long Island, a school that has hosted Chinese students since the 1990s. They were shocked when a professor was arguing with the students. That doesnt happen in China. Marquez Bell also remembers a highly qualied student who copied quotes for her entire paper. Her professor gave her the paper back and told her, You dont understand plagiarism, says Marquez Bell. In [the students] system, what they can recite will sufce, but here its interpretation, not regurgitation. It can be traumaticoverwhelmingfor a new international student. Lingbo Jin, a freshman student from Shenzhen, China, enrolled last fall at the Woodside Priory School in Portola Hills, California. She was initially overwhelmed by the cultural changes, especially the increased social life,

is exam-driven, oriented toward winning a few spaces in the Chinese system. To address these issues, several independent schools have instituted plans to help students bridge the cultural divide. Our plan includes training student ambassadors for each incoming student, meetings with residential staff, rooming assignments, and mixed classes. Most important is our philosophythat cultural differences are respected, Marquez Bell says. The Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) in Carbondale, Colorado, employs several strategies to get kids to mingle, including careful dorm and class assignments, according to Head of School Jeff Leahy, whose 160-student school student body is 10 percent Chinese. At Fairmont in California, international students go straight to an enrichment program after classes, between 3

Chinese enrollment at American private high schools grew from 65 in 2005 to 6,725 in 2011: more than a 100-fold increase.
p.m. and 6 p.m., which includes activities like Hip Hop, Zumba, American Football, and table tennis. Sports are big at Fairmont, and theyre a great cultural bridge, says Mendoza (Kobe is the man, he laughs). Mendoza thinks his schools emphasis on counseling has also helped incoming Chinese high school kids. Our (low) counselor ratios allow us to be intimately involved with students and their families, he says.

which conicted with her strict study habits. The rst few months were difcult, Jin admits. Gregg Maloberti, Admissions Director of the Lawrenceville School, says his student population is 15 percent international, and Maloberti is proud of its diversity. However, he says his schools 22-25 percent acceptance rate means that a student has to t very tight criteria for admission. These criteria often favor American students, who know early on that extracurricular activities, sports, and community service are important factors toward academic acceptance. But this western model does not help the average Chinese student. Its a cultural mismatch, says Maloberti. American independent schools are about a complete education of the child, from academic to extracurricularthe Chinese model

Agency Woes

Shenzhen, located in the southern Guangdong province, is Chinas fastest growing city after Shanghai, with more than nine million residents. In early January, the Shenzhen Daily newspaper published perhaps Chinas rst-ever article



criticizing one of its own educational consulting agencies, telling the story of Chinese high school student Guan Wang. This story was also reported by, in a piece that offered damning evidence against both Chinese agencies and certain U.S. schools for exploiting Chinese students for their money. Wang, an excellent student, relied on the Weishi Education Agency to place her in a prestigious U.S. private high school. Instead, she was placed at the Marvelwood School in Kent, Connecticut, a place for students not achieving their academic potential, according to the schools website. Wang had aspirations for an Ivy League education and was never informed that a majority of Marvelwoods students had learning disabilities. She felt shortchanged by the experience and blamed the Shenzhen agency. (Weishi ofcials refused to discuss the Wang situation when interviewed at their ofces in Shenzhen on January 17.) Another Chinese educational consulting agency, Shenzhen Wanyesheng Consulting Ltd., touts its Christian afliations and writes God Bless You in its correspondence. But when asked to dene its Christian credentials, a Wanyesheng spokeswoman just laughed and said, Its just business, nothing more. The Chinese Ministry of Education has certied about 400 overseas education agencies, but, according to Paul Miller, Director of Global Initiatives for the National Association of

Independent Schools (NAIS), theres no real governmental regulation. Youre not going to stop the practice of unqualied kids getting here. A recent piece by The New York Times described a host of application abuse, including fake IDs for admissions, forged transcripts, and inated Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores. Some Chinese agencies have admitted to writing personal essays for their students. We always look at the documents carefully, says Marquez Bell. There are ways of detecting fraud, and we see it. Weve been relying on Skype interviews to make sure the students English skills are appropriate. Maloberti is blunt. We have a great mistrust of [Chinese] agencies and individuals who are proting from the situation at the expense of the students, he says. Upham, who wrote a strong rebuttal to the Bloomberg. com piece, says that most college prep boarding schools do not use agents. Those that do generally exercise laudable due diligence to help make sure their schools are represented accurately. However, Upham also writes, Do agent abuses ever occur? Yes. And do school ofcials ever turn a blind eye, either as a function of nancial exigency, or simple naivet? Absolutely. Credible reports of abuse on the part of agentsor collusion

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Do agent abuses ever occur? Yes. And do school o cials ever turn a blind eye, either as a function of nancial exigency, or simple naivet? Absolutely.
our family, talk to current families and alumni, set up reception sites around the world for interviews, divide our admissions staff, and focus on certain geographical areas. CRMS Admissions Director Molly Dorais says that CRMS relies heavily on TABS to do market demographic research, compile consultant contact lists, school lists, and embassy contacts in the designated countries, as well as organizing a school fair for potential applicants. Says Marquez Bell, you have to be willing to travel. Theres no substitute for a face-to-face meeting with a prospective student.

on the part of schoolsshould be of serious concern to anyone committed to ethics in the admission eld. One attempt to ensure greater legitimacy from agents has come from the the American Independent Recruitment Council (AIRC), which puts Chinese agents through a rigorous certication process taking six to nine months that includes multiple references and actual on-site visits to the agencies in China. Thus far, only 12 agencies in China have been vetted. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) is spearheading other efforts to make Chinese agencies accountable. NACAC Director of Policy and Public Research David Hawkins was poised to publish guidelines on agents, but recently withdrew the proposed guidelines in favor of additional committee review. Given the challenges, how can schools get reliable information about their international applicants? We move very, very slowly, says Maloberti. We dig into

Money Issues

The scholarship and awards process for the international student is very different from the American nancial aid application process, much of which is conducted online for maximum efciency. For international kids, its a real challenge. We look at all kinds of foreign nancial records before making awards, Joe


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White, Director of Finance at CRMS, says. From paychecks, to letters from nancial institutions, to letters from employersits a whole different ballgame. Leahy is cautious, however, about awarding excessive need-based scholarships to incoming international students, and believes schools have an added pressure to be nancially responsible. These students families, he says, need to be prepared for the cost of education down the road. If theyre having difculty affording an education at the high school level, then paying for college might be completely prohibitive. Were not doing them any favors awarding them scholarships at this level, and watching them go back to their country because they cant afford college here. Upham, however, notes that most boarding schools offer no nancial aid to any international familiesbecause nancial aid is need-based, and at present there exists no reliable industry standard for assessing the nancial need of families outside of North America.

decades. We are established in these markets with deep family ties. But even at established Georgetown, Gilbert noted that Korean applications dropped from 40 to 10 a year. Ironically, an exception to this rule might be China. Last years signicant devaluation of the Chinese yuan had no perceived effect on student applications coming from China. Apparently the Chinese economy is so strong that the U.S. education market was not affected. Political changes also affect international students. Just like the drop in South Korean students due to currency devaluation, Gilbert saw a similar plunge in applications from Thailand due to political reasons. After the (1991) coup in Thailand, our students just disappeared, he said. We had Thai students throughout the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, but they stopped coming until just last year. Maloberti believes that his school has survived market uctuations by not being overly invested in any one corner of the world. Our strategy helps to insulate us from surviving an economic downturn. Adds CRMSs Dorais, We will continue to explore emerging markets in hopes of nding the best students we can. Given all of the attention on this issue, the education industry is reaching for ways to create clarity out of confusion. Upham recently hosted a Global Symposium at Georgetown University on March 11-13, 2012, that included sessions titled, From Mao to America: How Chinese Students Can Thrive in Your Classrooms, Understanding Your Chinese Applicants, and Recruiting in China: Opportunities, Challenges, and Risks. Upham is passionate about the value Chinese students bring to U.S. schoolsand the value U.S. schools have for Chinese students. Theyre exceptionally well-prepared, academically and personally, he notes, and this is precisely why so many college admission directors look favorably on international applicants who have benetted from the academic rigor and cultural-linguistic immersion of the boarding school experience. In light of all the complexity, though, how can schools improve in this area? According to Upham, Schools need to ask questions to the parents and the student, they need to manage the numbers of international students more carefully, they need to consider different admissions standards, and overall, implement practices to better serve the needs of the kids from China. One size ts all just doesnt work in this instance, Upham says. There needs to be a reciprocal desire to understand and serve. Q
Peter Mertz, President of U.S. Education Services, Inc., is a freelance writer based in Carbondale, CO.

Moving Forward

Established in 1953, CRMS is a relatively new institution compared to many of its 18th and 19th century East Coast counterparts. White has been the Finance Director at CRMS since 2004, and sees a correlation between a countrys economic stability and the number of applicants coming from that country. Three years ago, the Korean won was signicantly devalued against the U.S. dollar and we saw an immediate drop in interest from South Korea, White said. Families at that time, with children actively enrolled, had the amount they owed jump 30 percent, and they had difculties making payments. We were fortunate, Maloberti recalls, noting his School dating back to 1810. Our Korean market didnt drop off because we have a very mature family nucleus dating back

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