Chinese nationals have been attending American universities in burgeoning numbers over the last decade. There are more than 360,000 of these students now enrolled in U.S. colleges, up fivefold since 2006. As a reference point, the total is equal to the population of Anaheim, Calif., the 55th largest city in the country. Many of these Chinese nationals are taking away highly prized, limited seats from American students at our top universities.
National security advisers in the Trump administration have become increasingly concerned with the threat of Chinese students studying here. Fearing that they are committing acts of espionage and cybertheft, the administration restricted the visas of Chinese graduate students involved in scientific and technological research to one year (from five). The administration is also considering additional procedures to vet students before they arrive in the United States.
In 2000, one in 10 Chinese students returned home after their studies here; today, eight in 10 do so. The Chinese Communist government has become much more involved with international students’ activities since President Xi’s rise to power in 2012. In December 2017, Xi urged these students to adopt the attitude of “studying abroad to serve the country.”
Chinese Student Groups Are Often Puppets of Their Government
Students are now heavily encouraged to create overseas party branches when studying abroad. These branches are reported to be “responsible for promoting party and government policies.” They want students to avoid the influence of ideologies perceived to be harmful and they even ask students to report on each other’s behaviors and beliefs.
The Chinese Students and Scholars Association and the Confucius Institute are two organizations on American college campuses where the Chinese government is pushing its ideas under the guise of multiculturalism. Both groups have grown to dozens of chapters across the country.
CSSA groups regularly accept funds from local Chinese consulates, raising concerns about the extent of Beijing’s reach. The CSSA has worked with consulates to create large student welcomes for Xi Jinping during his U.S. state visits. The consulate collects the students’ contact information to text them about events and pays them for attending.
More than 100 universities allow Confucius Institute chapters on their campuses. The schools receive funding for Chinese language and culture classes. In return, the Chinese government controls the curricula and message. These programs are run by a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education known as Hanban.
The Confucius Institute actively undermines freedom of speech and religion on campus. The group worked to prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking at North Carolina State University, and it has censored ideas that the Chinese government considers taboo, such as the history of Tibet, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and Falun Gong.
Li Changchun, a former member of China’s Politburo, openly admitted that the institute chapters are an attempt to censor and control the message on college campuses. “It has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical,” Changchun said.
While university officials largely have accepted these groups as part of campus, U.S. officials are finally taking notice. Congressmen such as Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey are bringing long-awaited attention to this issue. “They [the campus groups] are nests of influence, reconnaissance,” he wrote. “They keep tabs on Chinese students, and those who attend their classes are getting a Pollyannaish take on what China is about today.”
Sen. Ted Cruz sponsored language in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requiring U.S. universities to get a Pentagon waiver if they want to keep both Pentagon-funded programs and Chinese government-funded language programs. President Trump signed the bill into law in August. The University of South Florida, University of Michigan, and the University of Rhode Island all shuttered their Confucius Institute chapters in the past month.
Applicant Fraud, Shady Agents, and Revenue-Obsessed Universities
Chinese middle-class and upper-class families in growing numbers are pushing their children to attend prestigious American universities, going to extreme measures to get them accepted. Even as U.S. colleges accept these students in large numbers, universities have not proven themselves capable of vetting students properly, calling into question the integrity of the application process.
Cheating on standardized tests like the SAT in Asia is ubiquitous, and test results frequently are thrown out. Cheating has taken all forms: having substitute test takers for the student, buying the test in advance, posting the answers online, and taking advantage of large testing halls to share answers with neighbors.
In 2016, the Justice Department indicted 15 Chinese involved in a cheating ring. The students paid up to $6,000 to have substitutes take the SAT in Pennsylvania with a fake passport. Chinese students could face expulsion or jail time for cheating on their own nation’s entrance exam but face no punishment for doing the same on a foreign standardized test.
Many Chinese families pay thousands of dollars to agents who serve as the bridge between students and the university they hope to attend. Some agents provide legitimate services to applicants, including video interviews and tutoring, while others offer to write essays, provide fake recommendations, or even fill out the entire application. These students arrive on campuses unprepared and incapable of understanding the material, and yet they take thousands of spots at top universities, squeezing out qualified American students.
In 2016, Dipont Education Management Group, a Shanghai-based education company, paid out thousands of dollars in cash and benefits to admissions officers at top American universities. Dipont admitted to allegations that it had a special relationship with 20 schools, including Vanderbilt University, Tulane University, and the University of Virginia. Admissions officers were flown to Shanghai to provide exclusive sessions for Dipont clients about the admissions process for their respective schools. Schools rationalized the scandal by saying that they needed to recruit Chinese students willing to pay expensive international tuition. From 2008 to 2012, the amount of money spent by Chinese students on American university tuition was nearly $7 billion.
The importance of Chinese money is so great that the University of Illinois took out a $60 million insurance policy to protect itself from a drop of 20 percent or more in revenue from Chinese students in a 12-month period. And who pays the insurance premium? The tuition of other students. While universities care deeply about losing revenue, many have ignored the potential risks of accepting so many Chinese students.
The Trump administration and Congress see the risks and have begun to act. However, it is also an issue of fairness to U.S. students.
Available slots at top colleges are few. Many of these schools are accepting less than 10 percent of American applicants. Should Chinese nationals with academic credentials that cannot be vetted, and a Chinese government that wants its students to maintain their Communist Party allegiance, take thousands of seats away from highly vetted and well qualified American students at schools like MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia?
With trade negotiations heating up, the Trump administration should take an additional look at how many visas are permitted and the vetting process of students.
Hal Lambert is the founder of Point Bridge Capital, which launched the first-ever Republican stock index: MAGA. He is a frequent guest on Fox News, CNBC, and Fox Business. Learn more at Point Bridge Capital and follow Hal on Twitter at @MAGAINDEX