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Watch Out, US Highschoolers: The College Competition Heats Up

As the NYT reports, Indian students are having an increasingly tough time getting into top domestic universities:

This summer, Delhi University issued cutoff scores at its top colleges that reached a near-impossible 100 percent in some cases. The Indian Institutes of Technology, which are spread across the country, have an acceptance rate of less than 2 percent — and that is only from a pool of roughly 500,000 who qualify to take the entrance exam, a feat that requires two years of specialized coaching after school.

What that means is good news for US colleges looking for full-freight paying foreign students — and bad news for US high school students who must cope with a new wave of highly motivated and highly qualified competitors:

Indians are now the second-largest foreign student population in America, after the Chinese, with almost 105,000 students in the United States in the 2009-10 academic year, the last for which comprehensive figures were available. Student visa applications from India increased 20 percent in the past year, according to the American Embassy here.

Although a majority of Indian students in the United States are graduate students, undergraduate enrollment has grown by more than 20 percent in the past few years. And while wealthy Indian families have been sending their children to the best American schools for years, the idea is beginning to spread to middle-class families, for whom Delhi University has historically been the best option.

The same trend is at work in China and South Korea, where insane competition for limited domestic higher education opportunities has forced many Asian students across the Pacific to America’s universities.

US high schoolers and their parents, already driven to distraction by the competitive college entrance race, won’t welcome the news that the applicant pool is getting bigger, but this is the real world.  Young people should not be reduced to soulless automatons and 24/7 homework machines, but US primary and secondary education needs to get more ambitious.  Those kids in India, China and Korea aren’t just competing for college slots; in a few years they will be competing for jobs.

America needs to tell our kids the truth about the competition out there — and we need to do much, much more to help students develop the personal strength and the academic skills that will allow them to go toe to toe with the best.

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  • Kenny

    The U.S. K-12 public schools are disgraces, and those teaching there are pathetic and excel at labor organizing rather than teaching or subject expertise. .

  • Ritchie Emmons

    I hope those Indian students are coming to US colleges to learn the hard sciences. The soft sciences in US colleges are disastrous.

    For those US students that are going to be having a harder time of it, I think we need to build up their self esteem! Tell them how wonderful they are! That should train them for the job market!

  • ms

    I wonder what this will do to the education bubble? U.S. colleges and universities have not really felt the pinch yet–though law schools have– but people are beginning to ask if the benefit of a degree really justifies the cost of obtaining it. It seems like an influx of foreign students might delay deflation of the bubble. It might also change the nature of university course requirements in a more practical direction.

    Everyone knows that some degrees are far more effective conduits to jobs than others. My guess is that the influx of foreign students will hone the requirements and course offerings of universities in a more practical, job-oriented direction. As a history and humanities person, I hope these disciplines survive. As WRM frequently points out, the current sea change underway in our culture is an opportunity to harness the wonders of technology to make life better for more humans. IMO, history and humanities help make sure the human part of this is not forgotten. Unfortunately, however, these disciplines have become so politically correct that they have almost become propaganda machines for the dying blue state model.

    Here’s hoping the the incoming highly qualified foreign students will shape and hone American education in a positive way that will force American students to step up their game and force universities to step up theirs. How about starting by rooting out the silliness that has crept into universities of late–various degrees in “studies” come to mind.

  • Noah

    What is wrong with us in this country? Why are we incapable of just shutting off the flow of these foreign students? Why should they get preference over our own citizens? Let India and China and every other country spend its own wealth to build its own universities.

    There is more to patriotism than waving a flag on Independence Day. The universities who solicit these foreign students, and the government officials who allow their entry, have betrayed the country that has made their institutions possible.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Noah: I think it would be a worse betrayal of our young people not to let them see just what the competition is up to. Let’s improve our schools rather than complaining about how well educated the other guys are.

  • Walter Sobchak

    This one really bothers me.

    We, US citizens, acting through our legislatures, give colleges innumerable privileges. We give them all sorts of tax exemptions that have allowed them to pile up endowments of billions of dollars. We have declined to interfere in their internal affairs and have honored their claims, often absurd, of academic freedom.

    We have done these things because they are supposed to provide us with the invaluable boon of educating our children.

    As our reward for these gifts, the colleges have jacked tuition up into the stratosphere, and it is harder than ever to get our children through their doors. Every parent who has gone through the disheartening business of college admission in the last few years, knows that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a white middle class American child who can’t run a 4.4 40, or doesn’t have a 12 foot jump reach, to get into an ivy league program.

    If the NYTimes story is to be credited, and little that is published there should be, the colleges have decided that we are not good enough for them, and that their published tuition rates are 40% too high.

    If that is what they want to do, fine, but we must extract our pound of flesh, and abolish their tax exemptions, require them to invest their endowments in short term treasury bills, and make their tenure contracts unenforceable in equity.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Your posting is (as always…OK, almost always) useful and informative. With this said, I believe that your quote:

    “US high schoolers and their parents, already driven to distraction by the competitive college entrance race, won’t welcome the news that the applicant pool is getting bigger, but this is the real world. Young people should not be reduced to soulless automatons and 24/7 homework machines, but US primary and secondary education needs to get more ambitious. Those kids in India, China and Korea aren’t just competing for college slots; in a few years they will be competing for jobs.”

    If the Indians/Chinese/etc. are encouraging their children to adopt the 24/7 homework machine model, why would we not expect our children to have to make the same effort in order to compete? After all, unless you propose some sort of extra barrier to non-Americans, it would seem logical that our children will have to work at least as hard in order to succeed.

    The horrendous state of K-12 education in this country is another problem, and one that isn’t going to be easy (or in today’s political environment practical) to cope with. Without some sort of massive change in the way we deliver education in this country, we aren’t going to produce students capable of competing. Oh yes, a few at the very top will be able to, but in terms of the broader population, we are creating a generation of worthless drones.

    Another issue is WHAT these students study, as opposed to studying in general. If the American students spend their time accumulating Grievance Studies degrees while the Indians and Chinese specialize in STEM, just having the Americans attend college won’t help our competitiveness at all. Perhaps rethinking the necessity of higher education, and base our funding/subsidies on those necessities on some broader understanding of what we as a country need. Perhaps it is time to make some decisions about whether we (taxpayers, who are ultimately funding this silliness) can really afford to send little Justin or Jenna to a 5-6 year resort where they get some credentials that tell us that they are expert in Womyn’s Herstory while Wang-Chi or Srinivas is acquring expertise (largely at our expense through subsidies to the university in question) in chip design?

  • Walter Sobchak

    I disagree this not about K12 education in the US. The applicants to those schools are not illiterates (except for the football and basketball players). They are very well educated and have shown it on international exams like the IB.

    This is about the colleges abandoning their duties and abusing their privileges.

    If we want to tax the rich, we should be looking at the multi-billion dollar endowment funds.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Walter, what (precisely) are the ‘duties and privileges’ that you are referring to? Should colleges and universities restrict themselves to American students when qualified (paying) students of international origins are eager to apply?

    I won’t debate that a defensible argument can be made that these institutions, which take government money and enjoy numerous non-cash benefits, could in fact be considered to have some obligation to enroll American students (I don’t actually agree with that statement, but it is not a nonsensical one), but that road will only lead to the ultimate decline of the institutions in question, as well as that of our country as a whole. Like it or not, there are plenty of well-qualified students out there, and it is in our long-term interest to attract as many of them as possible, to deepen the pool of talent and energy available to our society.

    Any business which voluntarily decided to sell only to Americans, and to exclude non-American customers would be putting itself at an enormous long-term disadvantage, and would not expect to prosper. Asking universities to do this is not a recipe for success. They will find away around any formal restrictions, and ignore the informal ones….they need the money.

    Mind you, I don’t have a problem with terminating (or seriously curtailing) the huge tax benefits and other subsidies that these institutions enjoy, as well as discouraging the over-enrollment in universities that is currently poisoning our economy. We need fewer Grievance Studies majors, most of whom don’t belong in a university in the first place. Targeting our largess to benefit those that wish to pursue education which will benefit our economy and our country is one thing, paying out an open-ended middle-class entitlement to provide a 4-6 year stay at a resort with a sideline in credentialism is another matter entirely.

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