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A new program at Kansas University aims to increase international student enrollment at the university by the hundreds in the next two to three years.
The university has said the program will increase diversity at KU and ensure student success. But some at the university have questioned whether it will ultimately benefit students and the university.
The KU Academic Accelerator Program, or KUAAP, will see its first semester in the fall. It's a jointly run program between KU and the Cambridge, Mass.-based company Shorelight Education.
The 12-month, three-semester long program is meant to provide an intensive first-year experience for students, giving them academic and experiential introduction to Kansas and the U.S. along with supplemental English language instruction tailored to coursework.
While KU will manage the academic side of the program and admit students, Shorelight will recruit students from around the world and provide some auxiliary services to help students adjust to campus.
Partnership with a private company
The university has signed a 15-year contract with Shorelight, which Sara Rosen, KU vice provost for academic affairs, has said either party can walk away from if specific targets for enrollment and academics are not met.
In March, Shorelight sought and won an injunction in Douglas County District Court barring release of the contract, through an open record request, to the Journal-World.
The deal is based on a revenue sharing agreement between KU and Shorelight. At an April University Senate meeting, Rosen said that, once administrative expenses are paid for, KU and Shorelight will split tuition money 50-50 from students enrolled the KUAAP.
After a student recruited by Shorelight progresses in the university beyond the KUAAP, KU will retain 90 percent of tuition revenues and Shorelight 10 percent. Basil Cleveland, co-founder and executive vice president of Shorelight, said this gives Shorelight incentive to ensure the students it recruits thrive at the university and continue their education. "It's really about student success," he said.
Currently, international student enrollment is about 2,200, less than 10 percent of the student population. Eventually the KUAAP program could help the university boost international student enrollment to about 15 percent of the overall student population, Rosen said.
Given that most will pay nonresident tuition, that could boost tuition revenue for the university and profits for Shorelight. But some at KU are concerned about what the partnership means for students and the future of the university.
Ensuring student interests
"There are potential problems when people are recruiting students into the university for money," said Lisa Wolf-Wendel, a professor of education at KU.
For one, "Only students whose parents can afford to pay the full freight can come," Wolf-Wendel said. Meaning the high cost of nonresident tuition could limit incoming students to those of privileged backgrounds and reduce the economic diversity of students at the university.
Wolf-Wendel and others at the University Senate meeting also raised questions about the use of agents in recruiting students to the university. Agents are typically hired by the families of prospective students to work with higher education recruiters from foreign countries.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling has scrutinized the use of agents by recruiters, citing abuses such as high-pressure sales tactics and problematic forms of compensation. At the same time, the association has recognized agents are a widespread and accepted recruitment tool among U.S. universities.
Cleveland said that Shorelight works with agents as part of a "multi-channel" approach to recruitment, but only those agents that have been approved by leading agencies, and they are compensated through fees.
Cleveland added that he was confident his company could quickly root out bad actors when working with third parties. "If a student identifies a problem, it will be very evident," he said.
Qi Chen, a KU senior and student senator, said he wanted to ensure students had a say in how the KUAAP program works. "I think hearing from some current international students would be valuable," he said. "I just want to make sure no students are harmed in this process."
Aspects of the KUAAP, including enrollment and academic quality, will be governed by committee made up of KU and Shorelight staff. At the moment the committees do not include students, but Rosen said at the senate meeting she would bring Chen's up concern with the committees and Shorelight.