Mandatory Summer Program Draws Ire from Chinese Students

On July 23, 27 students arrived at Colorado College from overseas to participate in the Global Scholars Program. According to CC’s website, the Global Scholars Program (GSP) is designed to “provide students with the opportunity to adjust to U.S. classroom culture in a higher education context, gain a valuable introduction to the intense academic pace of the college’s Block Plan,” and “allows multilingual students to strengthen their fluency with academic English through auxiliary practice with written and spoken skills, and the availability of additional ESL [English as a Second Language] support.”

This year, the GSP Program ran from July 23 to Aug. 16 and came to a total cost of $6,024. Of that, $4,300 went to tuition, $1,200 to activity fees, and $524 to housing.

GSP, formerly known as the Intensive English Institute, was established in the summer of 2013. Last fall, a committee comprised of the Dean’s Office, the Admission Office, the Office of International Programs, and ESL Specialist Chelsea Walter decided to make the program mandatory for future participants.

According to the official website of GSP under the Office of the Intentional Programs, “Students will be asked to participate in the Global Scholars Program because their applications indicate they may benefit from this academic preparation program and additional language instruction and support.”

This year, 27 international students participated in GSP, including 25 from China, who were required to participate in the program at full cost, and two other students from Thailand and Peru, who received invitations to come with full scholarships.

First-year Zhuang (Michael) Xu said, “Why are only Chinese students required to participate in the program?” First-year Peiheng Zhang even questioned whether or not the program’s selection process is an example of “discrimination based on nationality.”

In the Class of 2020, CC admitted a total of 27 students from mainland China. Except for two Chinese students who graduated from the United World College (Costa Rica and the U.S.A.), the remaining 25 were all required to participate in GSP, regardless of their high school educational background and standardized test scores.

The average SAT score of the 25 Chinese GSP mandatory participants was 2030 on a 2400 scale, which is 20 marks higher than CC’s median score for admitted students in the Class of 2020 (based on the Class Profile).

First-year Bingqing (Zoey) Zhou speaks to the Catalyst. Photo by Sam Wang
First-year Bingqing (Zoey) Zhou speaks to the Catalyst. Photo by Sam Wang

The average of their TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score was 105 out of 120, with the highest score of 114 and the lowest of 96. According to the Educational Testing Service, who provides the test, a score above 95 is considered to be a good language user, a score above 110 is considered to be a very good user, and a score above 118 is considered an expert user.

In addition, Matt Bonser ‘98, the Director of Admission—Systems, Operations, and International, said, “In terms of this year’s enrolling students from China, about one-third were in the CNC [Chinese National Curriculum] exclusively, one third had a combination of CNC and AP or A-Level [British High School Diploma] coursework and one third were in an IB-focused [International Baccalaureate] program.” Therefore, at least two-thirds of Chinese students could be categorized as familiar with the Western education system before applying to CC.

“As we select international students for admission,” Bonser explained, “we begin with the default that full tuition students will be required to attend the Global Scholars Program and make exemptions as we review applications. For example, we consider the official language of the country of schooling and may choose to waive the requirement for those students. We begin with a default that scholarship students will not be required to attend the Global Scholars Program and also consider adding the requirement or an invitation based upon writing samples, test scores and insights from secondary school officials.”

Bonser added that CC “is limited in how many scholarship students may be included in order to remain within the allocated program budget,” and therefore, CC is unable to require all international students on Financial Aid to participate in GSP.  However, Bonser failed to give any direct explanation as to why full tuition students should be subject to a default setting of attending GSP.

Based on this response from the Admission Office, GSP is mandatory for Chinese students not because of their nationality, but because they pay full tuition. “It happened that it has been true for the last couple of years, most of our full-fee paying international students are Chinese,” said Bonser.

However, more than 95 percent of the Chinese students in the Class of 2020 expressed that they were unsatisfied with this explanation from the Admission Office.

“Why would financial status even be a factor within the selection criteria for GSP?” Xu asked. In his understanding, GSP is supposed to be an academic program. Thus, its selection criteria should be based on a student’s academic ability rather than his or her financial status.

Xu continued, “If CC lacks the funding to support the program, then the college should not run the program. It should be mandatory to participate in the program because students need it not because of whether they can afford it.” He added, “Although I liked my overall experience in GSP, I still demand that CC give a more reasonable explanation as to why they make it mandatory for Chinese students.”

Peiheng Zhang said, “Even if I pay full tuition, I should still have the right to choose.” She felt that if CC admitted her in the first place, it meant that CC recognized her ability to succeed in the college, and therefore, she should not be required to participate in programs like GSP. In addition, Zhang thinks that CC is “taking advantage of full-tuition payers” to increase its funding.

At least five students felt that CC treated their family as what they termed “cash-cows.” First-year Ruochen (Melody) Mao said, “CC just wants to gain as much money as possible from my parents through GSP.”

Formally known as Intensive English Institute (IEI), this past summer is the fourth year of GSP. In the past three years, IEI was only required for some students as part of their CC offer based on individual application.

Megan Rhodes, Associate Director and Coordinator of International Admission, believes that making GSP mandatory helps students to adjust to a different environment and “have a strong start at CC.” Rhodes said, “Students who did take advantage of the program in the past became academically and socially successful at the college,” including winning the First Year Experience Prize, majoring in Comparative Literature, and becoming leaders in student organizations. “I would have done a program like this if I had had the opportunity to do so,” said Rhodes.

The International Student Specialist Lisa Kosiewicz Doran conducted research about students’ academic performances in November of 2015. “Overall, the students who had participated in IEI have done very well at CC. Specifically, most of the students’ cumulative GPAs ranged from 3.14 to 3.94, with the exception of one IEI participant, who ended up attending CC for only one semester,” Doran said.

The Catalyst conducted an opinion poll among Chinese students who were required to participate in the GSP. Without considering the price, students rated an average score of 7.6 out of 10 for the program. When considering the price, students only gave an average score of 5.32. More than half of the students noted that GSP was “unnecessary” for them to prepare for CC.

First-year Yiting Wang graduated from a high school that based its academic standards on the Chinese National Curriculum. Wang felt that GSP was necessary for her to adapt to American college life, but she believed that GSP should not be required for everyone.

Meanwhile, Mao questioned the effectiveness of the program. Mao studied two years of A-level curriculum and one year of IGCSE (British curriculum) before coming to CC. “During my last two years, I only had foreign teachers,” Mao explained. Moreover, since the majority of her classmates within GSP were Chinese students, Mao feels that taking the GSP at CC was not much different from her high school experience.

First-year Bingqing (Zoey) Zhou said, “When making GSP compulsory, CC ignored the individual needs of each student.” Zhou attended summer school with other college students at the University of Chicago in 2015 and received A’s in both Japanese Civilization and Modern Art History. About GSP, Zhou said, “Professors and mentors were all very great. But when considering the cost of GSP, I would much rather not participate.”

Furthermore, first-year Weiyi (Angel) Zhang criticized the inflexibility of course choices. “I did not like any of the two courses offered, why do I need to pay for it?” Zhang asked. Although she received an “A-” for the course, she said she just wrote a paper analyzing all the quotes from reading materials. “I did not learn much from GSP at all,” said Zhang.

Jiexin (Zoe) Zhou added, “The course I took was called ‘Globalization and its Discontent.’ It did not serve as a good introduction [to American college life] for international students at all.” Zhou said that the class focused a lot on American politics and philosophy. While this aspect seems to be taking the right steps towards cultural preparation, Zhou said, “International students lack the foundation to even participate in the discussion.”

Zhou liked the professors, but she did feel that the reading materials selected for classes were biased: “I just came to the U.S. I want to have space for reflecting on what is happening around me independently rather than having an ideology imposed on me. I want someone to have an objective account to open up my horizon, and then I can build up my own critical thoughts.”

Many students noted that the professors and mentors participating in GSP were helpful and responsible. First-year Sixuan Chen said, “GSP helped me to understand what CC classrooms look like. It eased my nervousness when the semester truly started and built more confidence.” She also appreciated the help from the mentor, who assisted them in opening a bank account and getting American phone numbers.

As a first generation college student, Bingqing (Zoey) Zhou also received an invitation to attend the Bridge Scholar Program, which is a free two-week summer program. Zhou said, “The Bridge Program is free. Students receive stipends to purchase books. Students can choose whether they participate in the program and what classes to take.” When Zhou emailed the Admission Office regarding whether she should attend GSP or the Bridge Program, the Admission Office replied, “Please enroll in the Global Scholars Program as you are an international student.”

Zhou described herself as feeling very uncomfortable with this reply. “How can the Admission Office reject my identity as a first generation student because I am also an international student?” she asked. “Why don’t I have the right to choose?”

When comparing the Bridge Scholars and Global Scholars programs, many Chinese students felt CC has a double standard. Zhuang (Michael) Xu said, “GSP students seem to be invisible on campus for a long time. [On the other hand,] once the Bridge Scholars arrive on campus, their photos are all over CC’s social media.”

When being asked to compare the programs, the Associate Dean of Academic Programs & Strategic Initiatives, Emily Chan, said, “As a program for ethnic minorities and first generation students, [based on invitations] is how this nation runs this type of program.” She continued that she believed international students require a different kind of support than first generation students.

18 out of the 25 students from mainland China stated that they chose not to apply for financial aid to increase their chances of getting into CC. Bingqing (Zoey) Zhou said, “The college does not know how much each family spends to pay CC’s full tuition. It is extremely unfair and unreasonable to assume that all full-tuition payers have the ability to pay an extra $6,000 to $7,000. I am really angry about this situation.”

Peiheng Zhang emphasized, “Every family has a different distribution of income. Some might spend 90 percent on their children’s education to study abroad. CC cannot require them to spend their 10 percent extra on unnecessary programs, such as GSP.”

First-year Zhipeng (Tony) Zhu talks to the Catalyst. Photo by Sam Wang
First-year Zhipeng (Tony) Zhu talks to the Catalyst. Photo by Sam Wang

First-year Zhipeng (Tony) Zhu said, “My father said that my family could at most support my education for six years [in the United States] before running out of money. Therefore, my mother is actually highly against me studying biology. Because if I study biology, I need to go to graduate school, and my family does not have more money to pay for the tuition.”

Dean Emily Chan said that as an international student from Hong Kong in the 1990s, she was aware of the phenomenon that East Asian parents, in particular, spend everything they have to support their children’s education abroad. However, Dean Chan said that because of confidentiality surrounding financial information, she was not aware of any detailed reports about the financial situation of this year’s GSP students and their families.

Peiheng Zhang was irritated by compulsory nature of GSP: “What CC did to international students is unacceptable. Nobody can deprive my right to choose!” Zhang believes that a core part of American values is to respect individual free will, but what CC has done to international students is totally against the values of this nation. “It is extremely hypocritical. CC does not grant these rights to people who come to this country to study,” said Zhang.

Zhang continued, “The first time that I realized that it was mandatory to participate in GSP, I told myself that I could come to CC for now, but I want to transfer after the first year. CC really made me feel disgusted. The mandatory behavior broke my moral boundary.”

In August (after the start of GSP), when Zhang received an unconditional offer from the University College London, she questioned whether or not she should leave CC for London. “I was really thinking about it. I even called my mother to discuss it. I almost booked the flight,” said Zhang.

Dean Chan said that because the funding to support students participating in GSP was not approved when the Admission Office released the decision, they were unable to require students on financial aid to participate in the program. However, her explanations still failed to justify why full-tuition paying students should be required to participate GSP in the first place.

When discussing the fairness of the mandatory nature of GSP, Dean Chan replied, “The true fairness is how to prepare our international students to be strong and confident to start their first semester at CC.” Dean Chan said that in past years, she observed that many international students “suffered” at the beginning of their time at CC, and as the Dean, she felt the need to make this program mandatory.

Dean Chan said that although GSP is expensive, if students failed any blocks during the school year, they would also need to extend their graduation deadline, which would result in a similar cost. When the Catalyst asked whether there exists an underlying assumption that international students would fail CC if they did not participate in GSP, Dean Chan denied saying anything that supported that idea.

Having a language program mandatory for international student is not nothing unique to CC. Brandeis University has a similar program called the Gateway Scholars Program, which aims to “give non-native speakers of English the critical thinking, analytical writing, and academic oral communication skills they need to become successful students at Brandeis University.”

Despite this, the manner in which CC runs GSP, most notably during the application process, is unique and even problematic.

The information about Brandeis’s Gateway Program is clearly listed under its “International Applicants” section on its undergraduate Admission Page. However, on CC’s website, there is no mention of GSP in the “International Applicants” section under the Admission & Aid Page.

First-year Zizhen (Trillian) Fan said, “Students were not informed about the GSP when applying to CC.”

The GSP web page is located on the Office of International Programs’ website, yet the page is inaccessible through the Office’s home page. Without the direct link, the only way to find the program is to search it verbatim – a difficult thing for international students, who have no prior knowledge of the program, to do. Therefore, the college completely failed to inform prospective international students about GSP before submitting their applications.

Only 4 out of the 25 Chinese students were aware of the existence of GSP before applying to CC. Except for one student, the rest of the 24 students only realized that they were required to participate in GSP after receiving an email from the Admission Office before the final release of their admission decisions.

gsp email
The email sent from the Admission Office to Chinese International Applicants. Photo courtesy of Shiying Cheng

Weiyi (Angel) Zhang, an Early Decision (ED) student, received an email from the Admission Office titled “Important Information for International Applicants” at 4:00pm MST of Dec. 16, 2015. The email stated, “In order for us to release your admission decision, we need to hear back from you regarding your financial status. Please read the information below and submit this short form to verify your financial standing and willingness to participate in the Global Scholars Program.”

It was the first time that Zhang had heard about GSP. In order to know her admission decision, Zhang filled out the form and agreed to “attend the Global Scholars Program.”

Early Action students like Peiheng Zhang, Bingqing (Zoey) Zhou, and Zhuang (Michael) Xu also received the same email about GSP at 4:00pm on Dec. 16, only one day before CC released their EA decisions.

50 percent of GSP participants who applied ED to CC claimed that they would not have done so if they knew about GSP beforehand. Zhipeng (Tony) Zhu said, “I was extremely unhappy about this mandatory requirement. But I had no choice but to attend GSP because I chose [early decision].” Another ED student, Ruochen (Melody) Mao, also said, “I really regret that I came to CC.” She continued, “If I did not choose ED, I really would not be here now.”

Should ED students be forced to come to CC if the participation of GSP is an additional requirement added after they submitted the application, especially if it was added only several hours before the final release of their admission decisions?

The Director of Admission Matt Bonser did not give a clear answer but only said, “I don’t think there are many students who ED to CC within the GSP Program.” However, 12 out of the 25 Chinese students claimed that they applied to CC under either the ED 1 or ED 2 track. When discussing whether CC deprived ED students’ rights to choose, Dean Emily Chan said that the Catalyst’s questions made her feel “uncomfortable” and refused to make any further comments.

In contrast, Brandeis University Undergraduate Admissions handles their ED students in a different manner: “If [international students] apply as an ED applicant and are placed into our Gateway program, we will release you from our ED binding agreement. This will give you the option to decline your offer of admission.”

Furthermore, the email from CC’s Admission Office clearly states that students will earn “1.5 blocks of credit (6 semester hours)” from GSP, while International Student Specialist Lisa Kosiewicz Doran said, “The Admission Office’s email is a mistake. It should be 1.0 unit, and we have already made it clear to students before the start of the program.”

However, first-years Yuchen (Jack) Gu, Ruochen (Melody) Mao, and Yiting Wang all said that they had never received any such clarification.

According to the data from the Admission Office, the only international full-tuition-paying students in the Class of 2020 are the 25 students from China, 1 student from Mexico, and several from Canada. Bonser explained that Canadian students are exempt from GSP because of Canada’s similar education system to the U.S, but did not clarify on the particular situation on the student from Mexico. However, Bonser did acknowledge that the Admission Office is aware that Chinese students are the only existing mandatory group in last year’s enrollment.

Peiheng Zhang asserted that the accounts from the Admission Office were contradictory. “I did not want to participate in a summer program full of Chinese students. Therefore, I even called the Admission Office to ask. The Admission Office told me that there would also be students from Japan and Spain. However, where were the Japanese and Spanish students?”

Zhang continued, “During the summer, when I asked questions regarding GSP, the Admission Office and the International Programs Office kept deflecting me to [talk to] the other one. They only highlighted how good the GSP is, but never directly answered why it was mandatory for me to come.”

Zhang added, “We demand an official apology from Colorado College for only requiring Chinese students to participate in GSP.” First-year Yu (Caroline) Wu suggested that the college should add online testing to determine whether students truly need to participate in GSP. Ruochen (Melody) Mao and Zhipeng (Tony) Zhu, meanwhile, request that CC give students 1.5 units as described in the initial email.

Eight students, including Zhizhen (Trillian) Fang, request a “partial refund” from CC for the program fees for this year’s participants. Zhuang (Michael) Xu demands CC to promise changes of next year’s GSP.

Shiying Cheng

Shiying Cheng

Website Editor & News Reporter
Website Editor and Staff Writer for the News Section at the Catalyst. Shiying Cheng joined The Catalyst in March 2016. Cheng is also a contributor for Insights Section of Asia Times. As a student, Cheng is double majoring in Political Science and Computer Science, with minors in Journalism and History. She is passionate about data, coding, and story-telling, and wants to impact the surrounding communities through the power of journalism.

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