An interesting thing is happening, as recently reported in depth in the New York Times
. Stateside colleges and universities are, despite massive tuition and fees increases, facing a marked surge in international applications and admissions. As a result, the ESL industry is as healthy in the USA as it is anywhere else in the world.
The benefit for ESL schools is two fold. Every college and university in the country requires a minimum TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) school for admission. Students often come months or years before they plan on even sitting for the test in order to learn English, often from a very rudimentary level.
A degree from an American school is seen as a golden ticket in much of Asia. Schools here are taking advantage, too. Many schools see these students as a source of much needed funding; they're the bricks and mortar schools need to bridge widening budget gaps. For these legions of eager international students, tuition is higher and paid without the assistance of scholarships or government loans. The higher rates are paid in full, and happily so, as a degree is often, hopefully, taken back to their home country and to a higher paying, more lucrative job.
Domestic universities hope the influx of international students can provide a new, dynamic perspective to classrooms and hope they will help broaden views and innovate. What these same universities don't account for, however, are the inherent cultural differences between China and the USA.
The American student will likely change majors at least once
. He or she will couple an academic workload with a social workload. He or she will probably work as well as study. Many will meet the person they will eventually marry during this time.
For the Chinese student coming to America, meanwhile, the journey represents something different. It's a huge investment in energy and assimilation, not to mention time and money. As a result he or she will come to the States with a very clear and planned path through the four years, a path that they and their family have agreed upon. He or she will be a diligent student, often scoring very highly on written and test work, but scoring lower on verbal and communicative tasks
. By stipulation of their visa, most will not be allowed to work. Most will congregate within a very small circle of mostly Chinese friends.
The social walls between the two groups also mirror the differences in schooling between China and America. Much of Chinese schooling is very single minded and geared to one test, the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (or gao kao
, “big test”, in Chinese). It's a once yearly test that is basically the sole criterion for entrance into Chinese universities. The two or three day test has been called the “most pressure packed [of its kind] in the world.”
Americans, on the other hand, have the ACT's and the SAT's, which are regional, AP courses which count towards college credit and they are encouraged to volunteer and be as active as possible, both inside and outside of high school, so as to appear as multifaceted and diverse as possible, not just brainy and book smart.
In China, in the face of such an overwhelming singular test, many students have begun looking for schooling elsewhere, despite the costs. In searching, many students hire agents or middle-men, whose services range from guiding students through the application process, to falsifying data
, to even writing personal essays for the students.
These students will often pay fees for an on-campus room when such a room is required, as is typical for first year international students, only to live with countrymen and women in a rented apartment elsewhere
. It's understandable that someone half a world away would want to live with someone they can talk with and confide in fully, but what's seen as a rite of passage in an American's eyes— having a new, random roommate upon moving into the dorms— is seen as a bridge too far for some foreign students.
Despite the hindrances many colleges face when recruiting foreign students, the process is becoming increasingly commonplace and is likely to stay. The financial stakes are too high and recruiting foreign students, while perhaps a stop-gap, is a growing practice. This is all very good news for the domestic ESL industry however, as it means more and more students will need help and more and more students will arrive without a place in one of the many colleges and universities in the United States. And, as dictated by their visa, they will have to attend a language school instead. For colleges, universities and English language schools alike, this all means booming business.