The international presence in American universities is booming. Much of it has been due to an infusion of Chinese students—the number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States has tripled to 40,000 in just three years, according to a report by The New York Times. Duke has been a benefactor of this trend: More international undergraduates, who make up 8 percent of Duke’s undergraduate body, come from China than any other country. That’s a big deal. Since Duke does not have need-blind admissions for international applicants, most of these students pay full tuition and provide important funds for the University.
This isn’t simply a Duke method. A whopping 18 percent of the freshmen class at the University of Washington comes from abroad, most of them from China. These international students pay three times as much for tuition as in-state students. Paying international students let low-income Washington students—who make up more than 25 percent of the freshman class—receive financial aid scholarships. When schools are slashing budgets and in need of creative methods to make ends meet, accepting more students who can pay the maximum helps soften the blow of more people attending without the means to pay. It’s a game of averages.
If you receive financial aid, chances are an international student is helping subsidize your Duke experience.
And that’s a positive of the increases of international students—notably those from China. State colleges are able to sustain themselves and accept quality students who otherwise could not afford to come. Duke (or another top-tier university like Duke) is able to create a delicate balance between financial aid recipients and those who pay full price while also diversifying the undergraduate student body.
But this increase in international students, especially the uptick in the number of Chinese students accepted, comes with serious risks. In conversations with The New York Times, administrators from various public institutions admitted having problems recognizing the legitimacy of Chinese students’ applications. Zinch China, a consulting company that advises American colleges and universities about China, published a report in 2010 that found that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit false recommendations, 70 percent have others write their personal essays, 50 percent have forged high school transcripts and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive. Most university officials interviewed admitted that they did not know if applications were fraudulent. Furthermore, schools have noted that occasionally students who arrived at their respective schools did not match the pictures taken for their Toefl exams, which many schools, including Duke, use to assess aptitude in English language.
So, looking at the bigger picture, what happens when there is a great chance that the student a university is accepting is not the one that shows up months later? Do places like the University of Washington hound down each student’s teachers to have a discussion about quality? Of course, this is not financially feasible for a public university. In fact, most admissions officers’ hands are tied: they need international students to help subsidize low-income domestic students, but still want to maintain the quality of students who do get accepted.
It’s safe to say that Duke’s experience with international applications—specifically from students in China—has helped it weed out those with forged recommendations or other fraud. The University may not be 100 percent successful, but it is most likely more effective than its public counterparts as a result of more exposure and financial flexibility. Our admissions officers may not be a CSI team, but there are some obvious guidelines that they can follow: An international admissions director for Kansas State noted that she received a cluster of applications with all fees charged to the same bank branch, although the students came from several far-flung cities. If someone with the financial constraints that come with being an admissions officer for a public university can find some common trends in admissions fraud, imagine what Duke can do with its investments in international expansion and years of familiarity with certain trends.
Although I am sure there is some competitive advantage to be had, conferring and passing on information to other institutions would help increase American institutions’ successes with identifying international application fraud. Not only would this increase the quality of students—talking means not medians—but it would also decrease skepticism around the Chinese application process. This would in turn allow universities to accept more students from abroad and better defend their decisions. When risks are decreased, the rewards of increasing admissions—namely financial incentives and increased diversity and talent—will come under less fire.
Since Duke is taking a leap into China already, it is only fitting that it lead the charge in creating stricter regulations and standards for applicants. Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Peking University High School, one of Beijing’s top schools, and director of its international division, told The New York Times “Nothing will change unless American colleges make it clear to students and parents that it has to.” It is time Duke made that clear, and worked with other schools to fight against application fraud.
Antonio Segalini is a Trinity junior. His column normally runs every other Monday. Follow Antonio on Twitter @Segalini21