Sunday, October 04, 2015

American Colleges Pay Agents to Woo Foreigners, Despite Fraud Risk

Like many U.S. colleges, Wichita State University wants more foreign students but isn’t a brand name abroad.

So the school, whose mascot is a muscle-bound wheat bundle, in late 2013 started paying agents to recruit in places like China and India. The independent agents assemble candidates’ documents and urge them to apply to the Kansas school, which pays the agents $1,000 to $1,600 per enrolled student.

Overseas applications “shot up precipitously,” says Vince Altum, Wichita State’s executive director for international education.

But there is a down side: Wichita State rejected several Chinese applications this year from an agency it suspected of falsifying transcripts, Mr. Altum says, adding that it terminates ties with agencies found to violate its code of conduct by faking documents.

Paying agents a per-student commission is illegal under U.S. law when recruiting students eligible for federal aid—that is, most domestic applicants. But paying commissioned agents isn’t illegal when recruiting foreigners who can’t get federal aid.

So more schools like Wichita State are relying on such agents, saying the intermediaries are the most practical way to woo overseas youths without the cost of sending staff around the world. No one officially counts how many U.S. campuses pay such agents, most of whom operate abroad, but experts estimate at least a quarter do so.

“Using agencies to help connect with talented, qualified prospects has been very helpful,” says Michael Heintze, associate vice president for enrollment management at Texas State University, which began using agents in 2012.

Critics of agent use like Philip Altbach, a Boston College professor who studies higher education, say it is rife with abuses and conflicts of interest, and may eventually degrade the quality of U.S. higher education. “The growing reliance on agents is a terrible development, and it’s very widespread,” especially at less-elite schools needing help boosting enrollment, says Mr. Altbach, whose institution doesn’t use agents. “Why are American universities doing this? The answer is very simple: money.”

The agent debate is dividing U.S. higher education. Concerns about recruiting through paid agents—they range from freelance operators to firms with hundreds of employees—are deepening as the foreign-applicant flow grows.

A record 886,052 overseas students enrolled in U.S. universities and colleges in the 2013-2014 school year, versus 573,000 a decade earlier, with nearly one-third from China, says the nonprofit Institute of International Education. Chinese enrollees were up 41% in the year from two school years before.

The increase is driven partly by schools offsetting budget cuts. Nationwide, per-student funding at public colleges fell 13% in fiscal 2014 from 2009, says the State Higher Education Executive Officers association. Foreign students usually pay full nonresident tuition. At Wichita State, that is $12,681, versus $6,022 for in-state tuition this school year.

Hugo Hu, U.S. deputy director of EIC Education, a Chinese agency that recruits for American campuses and also takes students as clients, says it is hard for Chinese students, who often don’t have college counselors, to navigate the maze of applications on their own. “There are so many U.S. schools out there,” he says, “and that’s where we can help students.”
Phony applications

Skeptics say agents, whether paid by a school or an applicant, can open the door to falsified applications that make admission easier for unqualified candidates, such as those with poor English or spotty academic records.

For a college, poorly qualified students can add burdens—requiring professors to bring them up to speed in class, say—or jeopardize accreditation.

North Dakota’s Dickinson State University says its accreditor sanctioned it after an audit found most of its agent-recommended students weren’t fulfilling graduation requirements. “We’re still working to recover our reputation,” says D.C. Coston, who called for the audit as Dickinson State’s president in 2011 and retired this August. Interim President Jim Ozbun says the school has stopped using agents.

For a foreign student, an agent’s guidance may mean landing on a campus that doesn’t offer the appropriate curriculum or support. And when an unqualified student gets a college slot with a falsified application, it can mean a lost college prospect for a qualified applicant.

“We find third-party recruiting agents to be not just not cost-effective, but dangerous,” says Dale Gough, international education services director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

The debate intensified in 2013, when the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which previously barred use of commission-based agents among its members, changed its ethics code to permit them for foreign applications if schools ensured integrity and transparency.


PC has become pandemic at universities

Peter Kurti

Universities used to challenge conventional ideas. But today they have become bastions of political correctness where the fragile sensitivities of students are cuddled and protected from emotional and psychological maladies.

Now US social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and academic freedom advocate Greg Lukianoff have warned that restricting free circulation of thought actually endangers students' mental health.

Vindictive protectiveness prepares students poorly for professional life and can even engender patterns of thought similar to those that cause depression and anxiety, Haidt and Lukianoff say. The therapy of 'political correctness' may only make things worse.

When political correctness, or PC, emerged in universities in the late 1980s, it was motivated by a desire to eradicate discrimination. But PC has morphed into a different beast. Twenty-first century PC is concerned with emotional well-being.

On campus, PC presumes an extraordinary fragility of the student psyche and aims to protect the eggshell sensitivities of students from psychological harm. That's why there are calls to control what can be taught, what can be encountered, and what can be experienced on campus.

And that's why many students also require their professors to issue 'trigger warnings' before covering any topics which may invoke negative feelings - such as when studying the crime of rape.

So here's a trigger warning about upcoming medical themes: the arteries of learning on our universities have become sclerotic and clogged with the plaques of PC which stifle debate. Excessive PC irradiation zapped in Australian universities is killing free speech in the name of protecting the vulnerable.

When today's students enter the workplace they will need qualities of strength, resilience, confidence and compassion to address the challenges our country faces. Instead, Australian students are being failed by universities trying to protect them from things they will inevitably encounter later.

Attempting to force the world to conform to your desires is never going to be the way to achieve happiness or success. It's time to remove the strictures of political correctness, to free up the minds of students, and to help equip them with the skills to master their desires, fears, and habits of thought.  


Sir Anthony Seldon: Private schools lead the way in 'teamwork, empathy and grit'

Independent school pupils are "dominant across society" not because of their academic achievements but because of their "grounding in soft skills", Sir Anthony Seldon will say.

In a speech at a schools conference tomorrow, the former Master of Wellington College will argue that independent schools are "taking the lead" in preparing students for the jobs required for the 21st century.

Sir Anthony, the current vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, criticised the state education system, saying that its "remorseless drive for exam success" was no longer "fit for purpose".

Speaking at the Tatler Schools Live! conference on Friday, Sir Anthony will say that the state sector has "much to learn from the success of the British independent school model."

"Twenty-first century employers need much more than the skills developed in exams: they also need what are patronisingly called “soft” skills," he will say. "These are skills of creativity, teamwork, empathy, grit, resilience and honesty.

“The remorseless drive in state schools for exam success is no longer fit for purpose. Students certainly need to be skilful at maths, science, languages and humanities. But they also need those skills that computers cannot replicate."

His comments follow findings published by education charities the Sutton Trust and upReach, which revealed that three-and-a-half years after leaving university, those who went to a fee-paying school take home almost £4,500 more.

Researchers put the difference down, in part, to soft skills, like articulacy and assertiveness, saying that privately-educated graduates "blagged" their way to high salaries.

Earlier this year, the Department for Education launched a new award, to recognise schools that encourage the development of character traits including "perseverance", "resilience" and "grit".

The awards were announced as part of the Government's £5 million Character Innovation Fund announced last year – a project designed to support the development of character education in schools.

Speaking at the time, Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, said that being academic "wasn't enough in the modern world" and that character education remained a "priority" for the Government.

"Nicky Morgan is the first secretary of state to fully appreciate that schools can excel at academic rigour and at teaching character," Sir Anthony will say tomorrow. "Though the best state sectors manage to teach both for exams and for skills, the state sector overall has much to learn from the success of the British independent school model.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “It is vital that every child, regardless of their background, gets an education which allows them to realise their potential. That’s why we have placed high expectations at the heart of our schools, with a rigorous new curriculum, world class exams and an accountability system that rewards those schools which help every child to achieve their best.

“Alongside this we are investing £5 million in character education to help pupils develop the grit and resilience they need to succeed in school and later life, while giving teachers the freedom to develop lessons that will excite and inspire their pupils.”


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