International Recruitment of Community College Students?

May 12, 2008 | Blog

The front page of Sunday’s New York Times included a provocative story about the increasingly common practice of international students paying private recruiters to help them access U.S. colleges and U.S. colleges paying those same recruiters a commission to do so. According to the story, a recruiter may receive $3000 from a student for his services, and then also receive $1000 from the college the student ends up attending.

What’s wrong with this? Let’s start with the possibility that, as reporter Tamar Lewin put it, it could turn the “college-admissions process into a global bounty hunt.”

I was most struck by the mention that community colleges are also engaged in this activity. Writes Lewin, “those familiar with the flow of international students say that thousands, mostly from Asia, use agents to come to American institutions, particularly community colleges with intensive English programs.”

There aren’t any easy ways to think about this. On the one hand, this may facilitate (or reflect) a broader vision of the “community” potentially served by a community colleges. Indeed, many Chinese students find themselves unable to get into that country’s colleges, and in some sense our community colleges provide them with the same welcoming & open door provided to Americans.

The idea that students travel thousands of miles away from family to engage in the “intensive English programs” provided at community colleges is more troubling. The hard fact is that we know far too little about how to effectively and efficiently teach adults with limited English proficiency. The resources necessary to accomplish that difficult task well, including highly qualified teachers, are rarely found at community colleges. I have difficulty imagining that a significant number of students in these programs are successfully retained, even to initial program completion, let alone to associates degree completion or transfer.

Finally, how does one juxtapose the image of community colleges paying recruiters to find and bring in international students with my notion of the community college as “single working mother” of higher education? Is this just mom being entrepreneurial? In some sense, I suspect so– international students pay full tuition, and community colleges need money. This is an important aspect of context that Lewin neglected in her article–the underfunding of our public institutions, which in turns provides motivation for this behavior. I hypothesize that were community colleges not so desperate for cash, they’d be less likely to spend their time in this way. Except that we do see even the more selective, wealthier schools doing this too…

I hope it’s clear that I find this all very troubling. I’m just not sure what should or could be done. Any ideas out there?

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