南加州大学（the University of Southern California）的最新调查显示，在美就读的中国本科生有近三分之二是通过留学中介录取的。
美国获得认可的学院和大学共有3,500所左右。很多中国留学顾问都按这些学校在《美国新闻和世界报道》（the U.S. News and World Report）中的年度排名收费，排名越高，收费越贵。
备受尊敬的撰稿人 Malcolm Gladstone 在今年2月14日和21日的《纽约客》杂志（The New Yorker）上发表了长篇文章，详细剖析《美国新闻和世界报道》如何在方法论上存在着严重瑕疵，偏向收费昂贵的私立大学；而包括州立和地方大学在内的很多一流学校虽然排名靠后，但课程设置和设施都很优秀。
Are We Teaching the Kids to Lie?
“The schools ain’t what they used to be, and they never was.”
— Will Rogers
“Education is what you must acquire without any interference from your schooling.”
— Mark Twain
A society’s education system is rightly held to high standards and expectations by its citizens and leaders, because the future depends so heavily on the qualities of the young people it shapes and develops, and their future ability to serve, lead, invent, innovate, create jobs, manage people, raise children, etc.
As the quotes above from two famous American commentators illustrate, history is filled with examples of opinion leaders with strong views about the inadequacy of contemporary education in delivering the desired results.
Media in both America and China are full of lively, heated debates about how to fix their respective education systems; and sometimes the discussion points cross the Pacific Ocean.
Some commentators in the U.S. envy China’s prodigious annual output of engineering graduates, sometimes jumping from this data point to dire conclusions about the erosion of American competitiveness in the decades to come.
Many commentators in China bemoan the outdated over-reliance on rote learning in Chinese schools, and the general absence of learning about teamwork and innovation. Among the moneyed classes, this is often cited as one reason to pursue higher studies in the U.S.
Chinese students now outnumber other foreign nationals studying on American university campuses. Undergraduates from China hit 40,000 in 2010, and are quickly gaining ranks with the 66,000 graduate students from China. More and more mainland families with the means to do so are sending their children to the U.S. for enrollment in secondary schools in anticipation of continuing on through college.
This is in itself a very good and healthy sign which reflects not only new levels of wealth but strong traditional family values which place great emphasis on the education of one’s children. The shift from government sponsored to individual sponsored overseas education gained traction in the late 1990s and has been growing steadily ever since.
At the same time, it’s developed into a big business with some ugly and undesirable aspects to it.
A recent article in China’s “Southern Weekend”, republished on Danwei.org, reported in some depth about the murky world of college application consultancies in China which offer assistance to parents and their children who are seeking admission to US universities.
Some of these companies operate on the basis that their fee is only paid when admission is obtained, a bit like law firms who only collect their fees if an injury lawsuit wins damages on behalf of their client. Some of them are also in effect “sales agents” for lower-tier US colleges.
Compounding the problem of surging application numbers is the fact that many U.S. universities lack the resources or expertise to verify the details of applicants from China. According to industry sources quoted in the article, application fraud is rife, and the image of China and Chinese student applicants has suffered.
According to a recent study done at the University of Southern California, nearly two thirds of current undergraduates from China studying in the U.S. used an application consultant to gain admission.
One of the most common fraudulent practices is transcript. alteration, in which the parents and student obtain the cooperation of their school in China to issue a false, enhanced transcript, in exchange for an “administration fee.”
Some application consultants even refuse to allow the applicant to see their application documents once the contract is signed. The applicant’s “personalized” admissions essay, letters of reference, and phoneyed internships are all taken care of.In some cases, paid stand-ins with good English skills are provided to impersonate the applicant and convince the university that the applicant’s English language capabilities are up to standard. As a result, several US universities reported newly enrolled students from China whose English language abilities were far short of what’s required in the classroom.
The “Southern Weekend” article estimated that the application consultancy business in China is in the range of a US$100 million per year industry, and growing fast.
Obviously the roots of this problem lie on both sides of the ocean, and an effective clean up will require joint efforts.
In the meantime, there are two wholly undesirable outcomes.
First and perhaps most damaging in the long run, a whole host of bright, ambitious, young Chinese people are effectively being taught by their parents and teachers at home that lying and cheating is an OK way to get ahead in life, based on the excuse that competition is white hot.
Second, this phenomenon is generating a bad reputation for China and her students heading abroad, even those who have not engaged in any monkey business in the application process.
The U.S. has some 3,500 accredited colleges and universities. Many admissions consultants in China base their fees on the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking, with higher fees charged for admission to higher ranked schools, and vice versa.
Respected author Malcolm Gladstone wrote a lengthy and detailed analysis in the February 14 and 21, 2011, issue of The New Yorker magazine, examining how the U.S. News and World Report ranking is seriously flawed in methodology; and tends to favor wealthy private universities. Many first-rate schools, including state and regional ones, are placed way down the list; but offer excellent programs and facilities.
As a first step, Chinese parents and students should break free from the obsession with this ranking, as well as having their anxieties stoked by some of the more unscrupulous application consultancies. One good source of free advice on higher education opportunities in the U.S. is EducationUSA, which has an office in Beijing. Their director told “Southern Weekend”: “I haven’t come across any family or student that couldn’t do it themselves.”
As a second step, there should be a process of dialogue begun between China’s Ministry of Education and the U.S. Department of Education on finding ways to improve this messy situation for the benefit of both countries, the schools and families involved.
Like a strong brand, values and reputation take a long time to build but a very short time to damage. And as for white hot competition, it’s nothing new, and not likely to change any time soon.