Predicting Success Ain’t Easy, Baby

As more and more institutions work with Strategic Enrolment Management, their Admissions departments are pressed to find ways to recruit and admit students who fit the desired mix. These days, that mix usually includes a lot more international students than ever before. Indeed, my own institution is working hard to be very strategic in its desire to “internationalize” our campus.

This all fine and dandy, but it presents some interesting challenges to our entrance requirements and policies. Take for example this bit of news from Business Week.

Apparently a test preparation company is training Chinese students in the rote method – memorize SAT and TOEFL questions and answers to improve scores and therefore improve chances of being admitted to a North American school. Here’s a quote from the article,

A rising generation of Chinese students whose ambition for a U.S. education exceeds their English fluency is acing the entrance tests, thanks largely to New Oriental. The test preparation company, which was once fined for stealing test questions, is frustrating college officials and faculty members, not to mention the kids who end up unable to follow some of their courses.

It should come as no surprise that a country noted for its rote learning would attempt that same method to gain admission to North American schools. In fact, what may be surprising is that this hasn’t come to light before this!

Why is this a challenge? Well, for quite some time now, universities have been able to use standardized tests to help predict success at university. A number of studies have shown that, along with high school gpa scores, standardized tests do help predict success at university (Zwick 2004). So when this information comes to light, it can be a little concerning. Brian Kerr, Executive Director of Admissions at TWU said the following:

I wonder if schools will start looking for alternatives to SAT and TOEFL for Chinese students.  As long as Chinese students can keep paying tuition and not disrupt the learning of others, I’m sure universities will continue to let them move through the system.  The challenge at a place like TWU is that class interaction and collaborative learning is an essential part of the experience.  The heavy emphasis on writing and dialogue in the Liberal Arts model is also a challenge.  A student who can only recite memorized phrases will not do well in the majority of our programs.

Perhaps there is a business opportunity here for someone to create the equivalent of SAT and TOEFL for Chinese students.

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