Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Asia Minor Becomes an Asia Major

Too many American universities are facing some pretty basic financial issues. Survival issues for some. Except for the mega-endowed schools at the top of the food chain, and particularly a concern in the cherished halls of the highest-ranked public universities, the question is how to maintain higher standards amidst budget cuts and a decreasing ability for students to access affordable student aid. With the conflicting struggle between growing of strident anti-intellectualism reflected in the new American populism and the fact that a college degree has become the job-equivalent of high school two decades ago, the bigger question is how our own universities can continue to service our own students.
With college tuition continuing to increase way above the annual, overall cost of living, with the contraction of scholarships and work-study programs while student loan interest rates skyrocket without bankruptcy protection generally available to non-student-loan debtors, public institutions struggle against a decreasingly tenable position. While universities are supposed to be need-blind in their admissions process, the harsh reality is most can no longer afford to hold to this line. And since the greatest numbers of students able to pay full-freight tuition come from Asia, we are watching the reconfiguration of student bodies in prestigious American public colleges towards this ethnic group.
At first, we were watching the scions of the mega-rich Asian families – draped in Channel driving an M4 BMW (Ferrari?) – sucking down the best American (and U.K.) university educations money could buy. Money was obviously no object. These students still remain in the system, but they are frequently joined by vastly more Asian compatriots from much less affluent families who have scraped and saved for years to send their children to the best.
In many Asian regions, educational standards hover far above American counterparts. See, for example, by May 23rd blog, How China Really Laughs at America, on how Shanghai now has the highest science and math test scores in the world. The students easily score high on standardized college admission test scores, avoid the killer local tests (like the dreaded Gaokao exam in China), and have parents able to afford the full freight of out-of-state tuition charges (much higher than what is charged to in-state residents).
Nowhere is this more evident than on the Asian-ethnicity-friendly West Coast, particularly California. “[The] tide of out-of-state and international students has … raised questions about whether or not they are crowding out in-state applicants from California's state university system, particularly its prestigious UC-Berkeley campus. 
“In March, an audit requested by a California congressman accused the University of California of hurting local students by admitting too many out-of-state applicants and recommended a cap on enrollment and stricter entrance requirements for nonresidents, among other steps. UC President Janet Napolitano called the findings ‘unfair and unwarranted,’ the Los Angeles Times reported. She said that the $728 million brought in by higher-paying out of state and international students allowed the 10 campuses to accept more Californians in the face of state budget cuts since the recession.
“Between fall 2008 and fall 2015, enrollment of out-of-state students grew from 9,000 to 30,907, according to UC figures. At the same time, California undergraduate enrollment increased from 163,773 from 167,959.” Christian Science Monitor, May 6th. UC Berkeley’s undergraduate student body is 39% ethnically Asian, although many of those are native Californians.
Despite the reality that not as many American in-state residents are getting access to the UC system, there are some secondary benefits to having so many foreign students. Some of these “best and brightest” stay here and create new technology and new jobs. Others return to their native countries with strong links to the United States, its traditions and values. A few carry back negative feelings, but these are a tiny minority.
We are also witnessing American universities with overseas campuses with several located in Asia. A few examples: Cornell, NYU, UNLV, MIT, University of Chicago (Business School) and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore. Johns Hopkins in Nanjing. Georgetown (international studies) and Carnegie Mellon in Doha. Ohio University in Hong Kong. Virginia Tech in Mumbai. Yale in Beijing. University of Maryland (Business) in Shanghai and Beijing. University of Dayton and Towson State (education) in Shanghai. Benedictine in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Temple in Tokyo. Missouri State in Dalian. American University in Dubai. Baruch College in Taipei. Webster in Bangkok. George Mason in the U.A.E.
For the students who still travel to the U.S. for school, far from home and family, there are also the inherent difficulties of a young person living away from home for the first time. Dealing with a foreign language and an often bizarre culture and expected misunderstandings, sometimes facing the risks of criminal acts they’ve never seen before… street crime (assault, robbery and even murder)… can be exceptionally difficult, but the rewards of the “new” can also be great.
For American kids, we are doing a terrible job in offering them the kind of access to education once enjoyed by their parents. It has become a balancing act for too many American universities and colleges, but it shouldn’t be. As long as state legislatures and Congress prioritize austerity over education of our own, the situation is very likely to move even more towards addressing the needs of foreign students, attracting them to pay full-freight tuition at the expense of local potential admittees.
I’m Peter Dekom, and bottom line: we are reaping exactly what we have sown.

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