Chinese Students in Undergraduate Programs: Understanding and Overcoming the Challenges

March 01, 2012 Download pdf

wRAP-Up Volume 9, Issue 1 - March 2012

In expanding efforts to recruit Chinese undergraduate students, deans and provosts envisioned an influx of highly engaged, academically successful students who would enrich the cultural diversity of their classrooms. However, the reality has been more complicated.

While issues of fraudulent documents and test scores have been widely reported in the media, Scott G. Stevens points out in this article that "the lack of engagement in the curricular or extracurricular life of the campus…trump(s) all other concerns, as it goes to the very heart of why international students are courted by admissions offices in the first place." Additionally, "many Chinese seem segregated and alienated from their U.S. peers and professors, creating a situation frustrating to all concerned, including the Chinese students themselves."

Why have things not turned out as expected? Stevens highlights different linguistic demands placed on undergraduate students versus graduate students as one reason universities have been caught off-guard. Key concepts in Chinese academic culture, such as allegiance to the group, Confucianism, social harmony, and obligation, mean that Chinese students and U.S. students bring distinctly different expectations to the classroom and cocurricular settings.

According to Stevens, "the way forward appears to lie in a two-pronged approach of (a) creating a more inclusive academic and social environment for Chinese students and (b) empowering them to move beyond a near total dependency on their Chinese peers. Achieving the first will require buy-in from senior administration and all key stakeholders as well as a financial commitment."

By suggesting ways to discourage fraud, implement support services, and train faculty, Stevens offers helpful advice to universities seeking to improve the experience of their Chinese students.


This publication has been developed by NAFSA members for use by their colleagues. No part of this newsletter may be reproduced without written permission from NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The opinions expressed in wRap Up solely reflect those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. wRap Up and NAFSA neither endorse nor are responsible for the accuracy of content and/or opinions expressed.

White Papers