What’s the Right Lesson from Kansas?

When the University of Kansas inked a deal with a private partner to recruit international students, it hoped to double its enrollments. To achieve this ambitious goal, it was prepared to give Shorelight Education, the private recruiter, a big cut of the revenues — if it met its targets, Shorelight could have been paid $2 million a year.

To say that those goals were missed is an understatement. Since 2014, when the deal was made, Kansas’ enrollments actually fell by 11 percent, according to outstanding reporting by the University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper. (Woot, woot, student journalists!)

In hindsight, the Kansas-Shorelight deal happened at precisely the wrong time, on the cusp of the slowdown of international enrollments. In an email to the Kansan, the university’s vice provost for international affairs, pointed to the national trends: “Given the international recruitment market nationally, the original projections are no longer realistic,” Charles Bankart wrote.

But was it really the wrong time? Over the last couple of years, as it’s become clear that the enrollment boom is over, one of the questions I’ve had is what it would mean for all the business that’s grown up around international recruitment. On one hand, tougher times could mean retrenchment and cost cutting. In that scenario, colleges would end ties with private partners and do bare-bones recruiting on their own.

But another storyline could also play out. Colleges would be more active in seeking outside providers to help them succeed in a tough enrollment environment, in which they face competition not just from other American colleges but from the world.

I was especially curious about the future of pathways, as the most intensive and ambitious of the private-partner models. In pathways, private companies work with universities to recruit students, who oftentimes wouldn’t meet regular admissions criteria, and bring them through a special program of academics and English-language instruction. The Kansas-Shorelight deal wasn’t unusual from the other pathways agreements I’ve seen — they are typically predicated on recruiting students in really large numbers. And they typically promise a lucrative payout.

The Kansas-Shorelight news comes on the heels of something I reported a few weeks ago, that another pathways company, Navitas, was consolidating its presence in the U.S. Taken together, should we call lights out on the pathways model in America? Maybe. But as one astute reader pointed out, Kansas officials never say they have soured on the arrangement. And another pathways provider, University Bridge, just announced an expansion, partnering with Santa Monica College.

I threw the question out on Twitter and got a variety of responses:

Benjamin Waxman (@btwaxman): @karinfischer “But does the Kansas experience say something about the future of pathways providers?” Hmmmm, been talking about this for a bit now. And not all pathway providers, but definitely some. Combination of factors to evaluate before signing up. Caution here.

Eddie West (@eddiepwest): @karinfischer To me this story, and Navitas’ consolidation, illustrates one of the big risks of engaging w/private pathway providers: that the private provider will be too busy expanding their portfolio of partner universities to devote enough $ and attn to recruiting for existing partners

What’s your prediction? I’m especially interested in hearing from people in international recruitment and those who have experience with private partnerships. Email me at latitudesnews@gmail.com or find me, yup, on Twitter @karinfischer.

Congressional Scrutiny of Colleges’ Foreign Ties Urged

The Trump administration, which has intensified scrutiny of universities’ foreign ties, is encouraging Congress to step up its own investigations. In a letter to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Reed Rubinstein, the principal deputy counsel of the Department of Education, wrote:

“Congress may wish to scrutinize more closely the goals and methods of foreign money sources, the significant efforts and corporate mechanisms some colleges and universities take and use to solicit and channel foreign money, the influence and effect foreign money may have on research and curricula, and the extent to which foreign money might provide the means for access to sensitive U.S. government research and/or create insider threats.”

In the letter, which was first published by Al-Monitor, Rubinstein also shared some preliminary findings from its investigation of six universities including:

  • That the institutions failed to report a combined total of $1.3 billion in contracts, gifts, and other funds from foreign sources over seven years;
  • That one university had a contract with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China; and
  • That one university accepted funds from the arm of a foreign government to create an “academic” center expressly for the dissemination of propaganda and to conduct other soft power information activities.

For their part, higher-ed groups have previously expressed concern that the government’s oversight has been overly broad and that proposed new reporting rules go beyond the parameters of existing law. Could the release of early findings that, at least on their face, seem problematic change the nature of the debate?

Bottom line: Whatever the course of the regulatory process and of the investigations, universities should expect their foreign relationships to be under a microscope.

Publishers to Scrutinize Chinese Genetics Papers

Two prestigious scientific journals said they would re-evaluate previously published papers on Uighurs, Tibetans, and other minority groups in China to make sure researchers got consent from those they studied. They also said they would put in place tougher guidelines on consent and that editors would “exercise an extra level of scrutiny and care in handling papers where there is a potential that consent was not informed or freely given.”

The publishers’ announcements follow reporting about how the Chinese government was trying to use technology and science to spy on and oppress minority groups. The papers were written or co-written by scientists funded by the government. A recent study on genetics forensic research from China found that it overwhelmingly focused on minority groups and was driven by security agencies.

Around the Globe

A Princeton grad student held in Iran for three years has been released.

A pair of documentary film organizations are suing the Trump administration over its requirement that foreigners share their social-media accounts when applying for visas.

Nine in 10 university researchers in the Arab region want to emigrate, according to a survey by Al-Fanar Media.

Columbia University has announced a scholarship that will give full rides to as many as 30 students who are refugees or asylum seekers.

China’s detention and release of a Japanese professor on spy charges has shaken Japanese scholars and could threaten university exchanges.

American universities dominated a new ranking of MOOCs.

Robert Quinn started Scholars at Risk two decades ago to provide a refuge to at-risk academics worldwide. Now he sees threats to academic freedom flare around the world.

Did a British university advise LGBTQ employees to stay in the closet when traveling to its Dubai campus?

A Harvard grad made millions advising international students on how to get into top American colleges.

How the battle at Hong Kong Polytechnic University became “one of the darkest chapters in the protracted fight for democracy in Hong Kong.”

Conservative students at UK universities feel unable to share their views.

A Brown University advisory committee voted in favor of divesting from companies that do business in Israel.

Got some international news you think the world ought to know? Send it my way, latitudesnews@gmail.com.

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And finally…

A few weeks ago I wrote about how gun violence could be deterring international students from studying in the U.S. But the first campus shooting I actually remember was back in Canada. A gunman burst into an engineering building at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, ordered the men out, and shot the women, claiming he was “fighting feminism.” Fourteen promising young students were killed. Friday was the 30th anniversary.

’Til next week — Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.