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Why 8,000 Chinese Students were Expelled from American Universities?

How can we help international students succeed?


When we look at all of the factors around the reasons that 8,000 Chinese students were expelled, the fact that they are the largest group of international students studying in American universities comes to mind. But, there are other significant reasons, one: not understanding the culture and dynamics of the American university system. Two, the lack of adequate preparation for the American university academic system. Thirdly, poor preparation in the area of academic writing, especially “writing on demand”. My students from China have often said to me and presented in assignments’ that they believe that getting into Chinese universities is very difficult but, that once admission is achieved graduating is easy. They have also stated the belief that admission into American universities is easier but that graduating from them is a much more formidable task. That goes to speak of how the students, parents and the Chinese people view our system, which they hold in high regard.


I have read numerous articles and research papers on this subject. The prevailing view is that there is no clear reason other than the large number (over 250,000) Chinese students enrolled in American universities. As a classroom teacher with direct interaction with many Chinese and other international students my analysis of the data is a little different. So, many of the students do not clearly understand the differences between the informal American Culture and the rigors of our academic institutions. Our institutions and culture value “critical thinking” skills where as many international school systems and cultures value “rote memorization.” The comparisons of international test scores clearly indicate that most developed countries do better than the United States. But, as students progress to the university level our ability to think critically comes to the forefront and Americans excel. In our culture people have the option to excel and compete at the highest levels or to choose to slack off. International students mistakenly, get sucked into the notion that it is alright to slack off. Those that fail too often are not prepared for the freedoms and the appearance of “everything is fun.” The reality is that the academic environment is highly competitive and designed to weed out the weak and anyone without the skill-set to compete. Many ESL programs do not adequately prepare them for the rigors of the environment.


The “Hidden Rules” are often misinterpreted by international students. Every culture has “Hidden Rules” that govern what is and isn’t acceptable. In my new book “A Case For Bilingual Education” I explain the “Hidden Rules.”; “When I first bring up the “Hidden Rules” up to students in my classroom they look at me with a blank stare.  I can see the “What are you talking about” swirling around in their brains. One example I often use is the golf course, especially the private courses where the sign “Dress Rule Enforced” so often appears at the entry. This is a clear case where if you do not know the “Hidden Rules” encoded in the message you would have that blank stare on your face. What the heck is the dress code; it’s not clearly defined or outlined no specifics about what to or not to wear. As someone who has spent thousands of days in this environment I clearly understand that it means that I must have a collared shirt, with slacks or appropriate short pants. When I use this example in class I ask the student “who in the class would have on the correct clothes?” When I explain the rules they start to understand the meaning of “Hidden Rules.”


Why do I state “the lack of adequate preparation for the American university academic system?” Simply stated, cheating and plagiarism are rampant in many cultures thought the world. Institutions rarely if ever condone cheating and plagiarism but, many do not view it as American academic institutions do.  American universities have very strong views on this subject. The consequences for not giving credit to the appropriate source are severe, and it is too often viewed by international students as insignificant. They too often do not understand the cultural dynamics of American university culture and why they are so severely punished for copying something. The preparation programs and high schools that international students attend prior to entering the American university system too often do not prepare the students to learn how to paraphrase and implement quotes. Many times they brush over this element of the subject, it needs to be a completely separate instructional element and reinforced over an extended period of time.

Language acquisition is a difficult and complicated process, especially learning a second language. Research has established that we listen, speak, read and write with each step in the sequence becoming increasingly difficult. The fact is the steps overlap as we acquire language. Learning language is a social process and cultural dynamics play a significant role in language acquisition. Most people do not differentiate between learning informal (conversational) language and formal language (for business, academics and writing). This is especially true of the American version of English, because America is viewed as a very informal place. As stated in my book “A Case For Bilingual Education” “… English is the language of popular culture and is the driving force behind English being so widely adapted.” What the international community sees on the internet, in movies and television is not usually the formal version of English used in academic environments and required for academic studies. So, often international student come to American and enroll in American universities and are overwhelmed with the strict academic requirements, the need to be able to “think critically” on the fly and the freedom. When I say freedom, I mean the lack of understanding that although the professors are often not on their backs for completing assignments or attending classes, the level of completion for grades is intense. We expect students to be weeded out as a result of the competitive nature of the American academic process. They are too often lulled to sleep, and too often by the time they realize it it is too late.

ESL programs, high schools, admission counselors, parents, and agents must do a better job of preparing the students for the rigors of the American academic process. Too often students enroll in ESL schools unequipped to teach the academic skills to succeed at American universities. ESL progression programs are better, but they often lack the backbone to implement rigorous literature and writing process programs. It too often becomes all about the money, now! Not about student retention and success. I highly suggest that the educational programs and agents develop intensive pre-enrollment programs to stem the tide of expulsions and failure by international students and specifically the Chinese students. Parents must be more diligent in ensuring that their children are better prepared for the experience. Tutors and choosing the right school that fits you child’s needs are paramount. Do not be swayed by the bright lights and reputation of many American universities or progression schools. Choosing a school is both an emotional and trying experience, research and school visits play an important role in ensuring that you select the program and university that will allow your child to thrive and succeed.

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