Opportunity Knocks From China

BY ANDREW BLOM // APRIL 25, 2013 // 

“They all wanted our autographs. We were like rock stars!” said Ruth Sherman, Curry College’s dean of continuing education, about visiting high schools in Wuhan, China last fall.

Sherman, Curry’s Director of Admissions Keith Robichaud, and a group of administrators from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Bridgewater State University, Salem State University, Springfield College and Wentworth Institute of Technology traveled to China in November 2012 to recruit students to attend college in the United States.

Loosely known as the New England Consortium, the group is working together to tap into the robust Chinese market. Curry hopes to enroll its first group of students from China in the fall of 2014. “If we were between 5 and 10 students, we would feel great about the future of the program,” said Robichaud.

Ruth Sherman and Keith Robichaud visited Wuhan, a Chinese city similar to Milton in demography.

Ruth Sherman and Keith Robichaud visited Wuhan, a Chinese city similar to Milton in demography.

UMass Boston is playing the lead role in the Consortium, as it has the most experience recruiting and serving Chinese students. Together, the schools are working to give students six different options of programs and campuses. “We don’t believe it’s going to be competitive,” said Robichaud. “If there is interest in one of the schools, then we’re all going to support that student to find a pathway to that institution.”

To promote Curry, Sherman and Robichaud visited high schools in Wuhan, one of the most populous cities in China that also has “rural characteristics” similar to the Curry campus.

According to the Institute of International Education, nearly 195,000 students from China were enrolled in a U.S. college or university during the 2011-2012 academic year. That is the highest number of foreign students studying in the United States.

“They need an educated population,” Sherman said of China. “They support the relocation of the students to other universities around the world so [young people] can get educated and then come back to help build the [Chinese] economy.”

Chinese students interested in attending college in the United States must first enroll in an intensive English as a second language program. In Wuhan, it is taught through Huazhong University of Science & Technology.

Curry representatives will visit China again this fall to speak to students who have decided to study in America, said Sherman.

Jane Fidler, dean of admissions at Curry, said all Chinese applicants will go through the same undergraduate admissions process as every other applicant. They will be assessed on their GPA, letters of recommendations, and essays. Students will also need to prove an understanding of the English language, and have a Visa allowing them to travel and study in the U.S.

The students would live on campus and major in whatever field they were interested in. But challenges along the way are expected.

“All the basic things we do routinely, they don’t know,” said Curry math Professor Tracy Wang, a native of Beijing, China, who has assisted in the recruitment efforts. “Once we know how many students will be here, we will recruit Curry College students to be their peer supporters.”

Wang, who created a study abroad program in 2005 that sends about 30 students to China for 15 days, said Curry is also exploring a training program for English teachers currently working in China. The program would bring these teachers to Curry to help them improve their English. Wang said she hoped Curry could launch that program by the summer of 2014.

Although Curry’s website reports that the college has served students from “over 32 countries…in the last five years,” there are very few international students enrolled in the college. The admissions department declined to provide the actual number of international students currently enrolled at Curry.

Fidler said she is aware of only one student from China enrolled at Curry in the last five years.  That student spent two years here before transferring last fall.

“Her family felt it was important that their daughter attend a ‘well-known institution,’” said Fidler, adding that the student transferred to Penn State. “She was happy here, and very active and well liked, but unfortunately her parents wanted her to go elsewhere.”

Fidler said she recognizes this concern as it relates to future international students, stressing the importance of graduating them and not just recruiting them.

“We are doing a lot of work, including creating an international team to help these students live at Curry and in the United States to make the best transition possible,” she added.

Robichaud said he sees an opportunity within the Consortium program to retain more international students.

“By developing this program, and creating a pathway for more than one student to find their way at Curry, it will provide a culture and environment to support Chinese students and international students,” he said.

Liu Guang Sheng, a second-generation Chinese student who is a freshman accounting major at Curry, said the college is currently not set up to accommodate international students. Sheng was born and grew up in the United States.

“There are no programs for international students,” he said, “and no discussion between the different cultures at Curry.” Sheng did say that things could improve, and that Curry is one the right track by bringing in more students from China.

Professor Wang came to United States as a student in 1990, to obtain a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Connecticut. The Consortium program is beneficial in helping Chinese students identify lesser-known colleges in eastern Massachusetts, and that the program could be a win-win for all parties involved.

“Curry can offer the international students higher level classes,” she said, “while giving Curry students a chance to see how the international students do their work, and to learn the Chinese culture.”

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