Monday, October 02, 2017

Canadian colleges offer US students lower tuition and Trudeau instead of Trump

CAMBRIDGE — In a sweaty high school gymnasium on a recent Monday evening, 25 college recruiters set up tables with glossy brochures and free pens. Among them were Quest University, Mount Allison University, the University of Waterloo, and Bishop’s University.

Most Americans can’t locate these schools on a map (hint: they’re all in Canada), but nonetheless about 100 US students and their parents attended the fair, curious to learn about them. Why? The lure of reasonably priced tuition and a chance to study outside the United States.

As private college costs in the United States creep ever-closer to $70,000 a year, Canadian schools are seizing on unprecedented interest among Americans increasingly unwilling to accept mountains of debt for an undergraduate degree.

Colleges in Canada, which are almost all public and receive more government support than their US counterparts, are significantly cheaper, as little as $8,000 per year at Brandon University in Manitoba, or $15,000 at McGill, in Montreal.

And these days, Canadian college recruiters say, there’s another dynamic at play: Some US students disenchanted with American politics since Donald Trump’s election last fall are exploring higher education far from home.

“It’s definitely a reason why they’re leaving,” said Mariya Kala, a recruiter from the University of Toronto.

Toronto, the nation’s largest and most elite university, saw 795 more applications from US students this year than last year, a 75 percent increase. Last year, 125 Americans enrolled; this year that number is 222, a 78 percent increase.

Nationwide, 6,349 Americans held Canadian study permits in 2016, up from 5,683 the year before. The government considers international students a tool for economic growth and welcomes them to work and live in Canada permanently after they graduate.

At the college fair in Cambridge last week, students asked Kala about Toronto’s admissions requirements, which like most Canadian schools do not include an essay, teacher recommendations, or an interview. Students simply submit a transcript and an SAT or ACT score.

Raisa Jarostchuk, an 11th-grader at Wellesley High School, told Kala she wants to study business and marketing, and Kala described programs she could choose. Her mother, Karen, was fixated on the price, which at $36,000 per year is among the most expensive international rates in Canada.

“That’s still reasonable,” Karen said. Her other daughter attends Boston University, which this year costs $67,000 including room and board.

None of Jarostchuk’s classmates are talking about Canadian schools. She found them herself by Googling for colleges that match her three criteria: happy students, a place to practice French, and a good price. Price is the biggest factor.

“I don’t want to live my life in debt,” she said.

Canadian colleges have tried to attract American applicants for years and so has the Canadian government. The Consulate General of Canada in Boston organized Monday night’s fair, held at the International School of Boston, a French language International Baccalaureate school.

Kala has recruited for Toronto since 2011 but in the United States only since last year. Her position is a two-year pilot to focus on New York, California, and Massachusetts, the school’s top feeder states. Other Canadian schools have also added to their US recruitment teams this year to handle the interest.

Until now, their success has been modest. But after Trump’s election, colleges across Canada saw an unprecedented rise in website traffic from the United States and a corresponding increase in applications.

“Without actively recruiting, we’ve seen a bump in our applications,” said Cynthia Vokey, a recruiter at the fair who stood beside a poster of the green coastline that surrounds Cape Breton University. The 3,000-student school is located on the northern tip of Nova Scotia. “We’re calling it the Trump bump.”

The pamphlet for Bishop’s University, a 2,500-student school in Quebec that costs $16,000 a year for international students, bore the slogan “Look North.” The school saw a 200 percent increase in American applications and ultimately welcomed 72 US students last year, a record according to recruiter Eddie Pomykala.

“That’s not just because of the political situation here, there’s a lot of factors,” Pomykala said.

There are already about 800 American students at Toronto, about half of them undergraduates. They say they like going to school in the lakeside city, which feels culturally different but not entirely foreign. They like Toronto’s diversity and the freedom of knowing they will not spend their lives in debt.

But choosing a school based on price is not an easy decision. It took Eva Bodin, a second-year from Middlesex, Vt., months to adjust to the idea. She had always dreamed of going to Northeastern University in Boston.

Northeastern accepted her, she said, and she made a deposit, but she never made it to Huntington Avenue.

Northeastern costs about $67,000 a year and offered her $1,000 annually in financial aid, she said. But Bodin’s mother is half-Canadian, so Bodin is eligible to pay Canadian tuition at Toronto, which is about $6,000 per year.

“I feel so happy to be here, not having to spend the rest of my life paying off debt,” Bodin said.

Why are Canadian colleges so much cheaper? Mainly because almost all of them are public. Government aid comes primarily from the provinces and some schools receive as much as 80.5 percent of their operating budget from the province, according to a report by CAUBO, a nonprofit professional organization representing financial administrators of Canadian colleges.

As in the United States, government support for Canadian colleges is declining, but the level of support in the United States is lower.

Tuition at public colleges and universities in the United States accounts for about 47 percent of their total funding, up from 26 percent in 1991, according to a 2016 report on state higher education finance published by SHEEO, a national association of public higher education officials.

Even as US students enjoy the independence of navigating college life in another country, many said being American in Canada carries new weight since Trump’s election.

Canadians love to talk American politics, but in the same way they might discuss hockey, students said. Many laugh when they wonder how the United States could have elected a reality television star.

Bodin, from Vermont, remembers the day after Trump’s election. She was at a political science lecture in one of the school’s largest auditoriums. The professor mentioned Trump’s name and the room burst into laughter.

“I’m sitting in a room of 1,300 people just laughing at Americans,” she said.

Other students feel guilty for having found a way to escape. As she scrolls through her Facebook feed, Konstantina Nikolakis, a second-year from Winchester sees posts from friends in the United States, and part of her wishes she was protesting Trump alongside them.

“It’s a lot of privilege to be able to leave,” Nikolakis said. “I don’t want to get away from it, I don’t want to avoid the issues.”

Back in the Cambridge high school, Marc Jacques from the Canadian consulate’s office packed up his sign-in list and recalled the years when he first started recruiting in the United States. In 2004, he said, not even high school college counselors here had heard of Canadian colleges. He doesn’t chalk up this recent bump to Trump entirely, or to tuition prices, but to the effort he and others have put in for years, and the quality of the schools they represent.

Whatever the reason, he said, Canada is the winner. The country’s population is declining, and it sees students as an ideal way to create new Canadians.

“The government is really actively seeking international students,” he said. “If a student can be accepted to a university, that’s the kind of person you want in your country.”


Harvard panel back-pedals on authoritarian social club ban after backlash

Facing a backlash from faculty, students, and alumni over its far-reaching proposal to ban all exclusive, off-campus clubs at Harvard University, a panel studying the issue on Friday offered more measured options for dealing with the century-old organizations.

“The College must take action to address the detrimental impact of the unrecognized single-gender social organizations,” the committee said in its final report released Friday afternoon. “At the same time, as a committee, we did not reach consensus about the path forward.”

The committee’s admission that there are “significant differences” on how to deal with the clubs reflects their grip on Harvard’s social scene and the difficulty the administration has faced in reining them in.

The committee’s report suggested two distinct options and then a third that included a grab bag of suggestions. Aside from the ban on all elite clubs, the final panel report also suggested that Harvard could stick with the current policy barring membership to single-gender groups. Alternatively, the college could take a softer touch in dealing with clubs, including persuading parents and students of the dangerous behaviors that can take place, creating more social spaces on campus, and bringing in the police more often to address illegal and harmful activities.

“This report represents a good deal of back-pedaling of a committee whose initial thoughts were rebuffed,” said Rick Porteus, graduate president of Harvard’s Fly Club, which has opposed the proposed restrictions on the clubs.

Harvard has been trying for several years to develop a policy that would restrict these social groups, particularly the seven traditionally all-male final clubs, with their elite membership rolls and Cambridge mansions.

Administrators blame the clubs for unruly parties that have led to underage drinking and sexual assault, and for fostering a divisive culture. [How awful!]

This past summer, a panel of administrators, faculty, and students who spent months researching and debating the issue, drafted a recommendation that would phase out all final clubs, as well as sororities and fraternities, beginning in the fall of 2018. Under the proposed policy, students who joined such organizations could be expelled or suspended.

But critics argued that the proposal went too far. Some faculty members worried that Harvard would be overstepping its role and interfering with the right of students to freely associate with whomever they wanted off-campus.

Members of sororities and the women’s final clubs protested that they had been unfairly targeted in the broad policy and said their organizations provided refuge and networking opportunities that were otherwise unavailable.

Some alumni and families threatened to withdraw donations to the university. And the committee spent a significant amount of time discussing whether the sanctions were even legal.

Camille N’Diaye-Muller, a senior and undergraduate president of the Delta Gamma sorority, said the committee’s new report offers some hope for these social organizations.

“At least they are starting to listen to their students,” N’Diaye-Muller said. “I am cautiously optimistic for now.”


Teacher knows best: lessons from Chinese attitudes to education

When my little boy was three, his Chinese teacher forced a bite of fried egg into his mouth. At school. Without permission.

“She put it there,” my firstborn told me, lips forming an “O”, finger pointing past his teeth.

“Then what happened?” I prodded my son, who despises eggs.

“I cried and spit it out,” he said.

“And?” I pressed.

“She did it again,” he said. In all, Teacher Chen pushed egg into my son’s mouth four times, and the last time he swallowed.

We are Americans raising a family in Shanghai — China’s megacity of 26 million people — and the Chinese are known to pump out some of the world’s best students. When we realised that a few blocks from our new home was one of the best state-run schools, as far as elite urbanites are concerned, we decided to enrol our son. He would learn the world’s most spoken language. What was not to like? Plenty, as it turned out. And it was only the first week of kindergarten.

The day after the egg episode, I marched off to school to confront Teacher Chen, brash in my conviction about individual choice.

“We don’t use such methods of force in America,” I blurted in Mandarin, my son clutching my hand. (I was born and raised in America but grew up speaking Chinese at home.)

“Oh? How do you do it?” Teacher Chen challenged.

“We explain that egg eating is good for them, that the nutrients help build strong bones and teeth and helps with eyesight,” I said, trying to sound authoritative. “We motivate them to choose … we trust them with the decision.”

“Does it work?” Teacher Chen challenged.

In truth, no. I’d never been able to get my son to eat eggs. He’s a picky eater. Later, Teacher Chen pulled me aside for a lecture. “In front of the children, you should say, ‘Teacher is right, and Mum will do things the same way,’ OK?”

I nodded, slightly stunned.

Many studies support the Chinese way of education. Researchers have found that six-year-old Chinese children trounce their American peers in early maths skills, including geometry and logic. In the past decade, Shanghai teens twice took No 1 in the world on a test called PISA (the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment), which assesses problem-solving skills, while American students landed in the middle of the pack.

When young Chinese head abroad, the results are impressive. They are earning more spots at the world’s top universities. The Ivy League enrols eight times more Chinese undergraduates than a decade ago, according to the Institute of International Education, and the Chinese are helping to launch Silicon Valley start-ups in disproportionate numbers.

Yet, from my perch in Shanghai, I suspected I would have some objections to Chinese education. Force-feeding would get a teacher dragged into court in the US, the land of infant choice, free-form play and individualised everything. In China, children are also subjected to high-stakes testing at every turn, which keeps them bent over books from toddlerhood on.

I began to wonder: what price do the Chinese pay to produce their “smart” kids? And do we really have something to learn from the Chinese way of education?

For five years now, I’ve parented a child inside China’s school system and interviewed Chinese teachers, parents and students at all stages of education. I’ve discovered that there are indeed some Chinese “secrets”. Most have to do with attitudes about education.

There are real upsides to a mentality of “teacher knows best”. As I worked through my anxieties about submitting to this kind of system, I began to observe that when parents fall in line with teachers, so do their children. This signalling gives the teacher near-absolute command of her classroom. My son became so afraid of being late for class, missing school or otherwise disappointing his teacher, that he once raised a stink when I broached the possibility of missing a few school days for a family trip. He was five.

Having the teacher as centre-of-classroom also gives students a leg-up in subjects such as geo­metry and computer programming, which are more effectively taught through direct instruction (versus student-led discovery), according to a 2004 study of 112 third and fourth-graders published in the journal Psychological Science. A 2014 study of more than 13,000 students in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis found that math-challenged first-graders learned more effectively when teachers demonstrated pro­blem-solving procedures and followed up with repeated practice.

By contrast, Western teachers spend lots of time managing classroom behaviour and crushing mini-revolts by students and parents alike. A Chinese teacher who arrived in the US two decades ago recalled to me her surprise the first year she taught American kids. “I started out very controlling, but it didn’t work at all. My students talked back,” says Sheen Zhang, who teaches Mandarin at a Minnesota high school. Parents sometimes complained when she assigned too much homework. A mother once asked her to change the way she talked to her classwork-skipping daughter. “She wanted me to say, ‘You can do better’ instead of ‘You didn’t finish this’,” exclaimed Zhang.

The Chinese parent knows her kid deserves whatever the teacher delivers, no questions asked. In other words, let the teacher do his or her job. As a result, educators in China enjoy an esteem that’s tops in the world: half of the Chinese population would encourage their kids to become teachers while less than a third of Americans and Brits would do the same, according to a 2013 study by the Varkey Foundation. Chinese society grants teachers a social status on par with doctors.

There are also educational advantages to the Chinese insistence on elevating the group over the needs of any individual child. The reason is simple: classroom goals are better served if everyone ­charges forward at the same pace. No exceptions, no diversions.

My son suffered from asthma during the winter, but Teacher Chen denied my request to keep his rescue inhaler near the classroom — its use might be a distraction to his classmates. When I protested, I was told I could transfer my son out of the school. In other words, no kid gets special treatment and if I didn’t like it I could get out. (Ultimately, I found a solution: a preventive steroid inhaler I could administer at home.)

The school’s attitude is absolutely draconian. But I began to wonder whether Americans have gone too far in the other direction, elevating the needs of individual students to the detriment of the group. Some parents think nothing of sending an unvaccinated child to school — which can ignore community health — or petitioning to move school start times to accommodate sports schedules. Meanwhile, teacher friends tell me they are spending more time dealing with “problem” students, often through behavioural intervention programs that whittle away teachers’ time with the rest of the class. Where should we draw the line?

Another bracing Chinese belief is that hard work trumps innate talent when it comes to academics. Equipped with flashcards and ready to practise, my son’s Chinese language teacher knows that he is capable of learning the 3500 characters required for literacy. His primary school math teacher gives no child a free pass on triple-digit arithmetic and stays after school to help laggards. China’s school system breeds a Chinese-style grit, which delivers the daily message that perseverance — not intelligence or ability — is key to success.

Studies show that this attitude gets kids further in the classroom. Ethnic Asian youth are higher academic achievers in part because they believe in the connection between effort and achievement, while “white Americans tend to view cognitive abilities as … inborn”, according to a longitudinal study of more than 5000 students published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. Chinese kids are used to struggling through difficult content and they believe that success is within reach of anyone willing to work for it. This attitude gives policymakers in China great latitude when it comes to setting out and enforcing higher standards.

In the US, parents have often revolted as policymakers try to push through similar measures. In part, we are afraid that Johnny will feel bad about himself if he can’t make the grade. What if, instead, Johnny’s parents — and his teacher, too — believed that the boy could learn challenging maths with enough dedicated effort?

We aren’t afraid to push our children when it comes to athletics. Here we believe that hard work and practice pay off, so we accept scores and rankings. Eyes glued to scoreboards at a meet, we embrace numbers as a way to measure progress. A ninth-place finish in the 100m dash suggests to us a plodding Johnny needs to train harder. It doesn’t mean that he’s inferior, nor do we worry much about his self-esteem.

My son has been in the Chinese school system now for five years. During that time he has become a proper pupil who faithfully greets his teacher each morning — “Laoshi Zao! Good morning, teacher!” — and has developed an unbending respect for education. In primary school, I watched, a bit dazed, as he prepared his own backpack for school at six years old, slotting his English, Chinese and maths books into his bag each morning along with six pencils that he sharpened himself.

When his homework books come home — parents in China are required to sign them daily to prove involvement — he brings them to us immediately. He began teaching his younger brother Mandarin, two small heads huddled over a picture book, naming animals. A little older now, he expertly performs timed drills in arithmetic, his pencil travelling down the page, and he gains confidence from his success.

When I tell the story of my son’s Chinese educational experience to American friends, they gasp. When they spend time with him, they are surprised that he doesn’t cower in the corner or obey commands like a labrador retriever. My son is imaginative when he draws, and has a great sense of humour and a mean forehand in tennis. None of these qualities has slipped away because we prioritise academics from an early age. Still, I must confess that I have been paralysed by anxiety at times over the Chinese way. Teacher Chen wasn’t just authoritarian, but she sometimes delivered punishments I’d probably file a lawsuit over if I were living in California. Once, she isolated my young son and several classmates in an empty classroom and threatened to demote them after they failed to follow in “one-two” step during a physical exercise.

Her power was even more worrisome when coupled with the Communist Party’s political agenda. The following year, the teachers began running mock elections for class monitor, part of the grooming process to identify star students for eventual party membership. The government also censors textbooks and bans topics of discussion from the classroom.

At the same time, China’s education landscape is littered with dropouts in a system that perpetuates an underclass: children who fail to score well enough to advance into regular academic high schools would populate a city the size of London each year. Because of the high stakes, families sometimes take extreme measures, including cheating and bribery.

And there is no denying that the traditional Chinese classroom discourages the expression of new and original thought. I observed an art class where 28 toddlers were instructed to sketch exactly the same way, with errant drawings tacked to the wall to shame the deviants. “Rain falls from the sky to the ground and comes in little dots,” bellowed the teacher, as the children dutifully populated their pages. In this classroom, rain did not blow sideways or hurtle to the ground in sheets. There was no figurative rain, such as purple rain, nor did it rain tears or frogs, much less cats and dogs.

Western education cultures get more than a few things right. There are major problems with China’s desire to cultivate a nation of obedient patriots, and I naturally resisted. In the West, we harbour a healthy mistrust of authority, and our freedom to raise a fuss is a right we should celebrate. It’s foundational to our national character.

But the scepticism we freely apply to our political leaders can be detrimental when transferred to the men and women who stand at the front of our classrooms. I worry that educational progress is hobbled by parental entitlement and attitudes that detract from learning, especially when we demand privileges for our children that have little to do with education and ask for report-card mercy when they can’t make the grade. As a society, we’re expecting more from our teachers while shouldering less responsibility at home.

From my years living in a very different country, I’ve learned that wonderful things can happen when we give our educators the respect and autonomy they deserve.


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