PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — In the United States, competition is often fierce to get into the most prestigious universities. Officials say that the situation is even more intense in China, where space at higher education institutions does not meet the demand.
That has led more Chinese students to apply to colleges in the U.S., and the University of Maine at Presque Isle is expanding its efforts to lure some of those students to its campus.
This week, 41 Chinese high school students are taking classes at UMPI, living in the residence halls, using the facilities and touring the area. All of the students, who are in their first year of high school, are from Hefei #8, a high school in Hefei, China. Although they all speak English, they are honing their language skills while studying subjects such as math, science and computer technology. The group is being taught by five UMPI instructors.
“This is the first time we’ve ever done something like this,” UMPI President Don Zillman said Thursday afternoon. “There are an enormous number of high school students looking forward to attending U.S. colleges, and the shortage of spaces in Chinese universities is prompting more of them to consider education not only in the U.S., but in England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.”
Jianli Lu, an official at the Hefei high school, accompanied the students to Presque Isle. He said this was the first time that the school had taken students on such a trip.
“These students are special, because they already plan to apply to American universities,” he said Thursday. “This is a good opportunity to see how such a college works so they can get used to it.”
Zicong “Joe” Zhou, 22, is an international student from China who has been attending UMPI for close to two years. He is spending the week as a tour guide, interpreter and assistant to the 41 students.
“In China, college students have the same schedule with the same lectures at the same time,” he said. “It is different here. Not all of the students are together and the classes are shorter. It has been good to show these students how a college runs here, especially on such a small campus. It isn’t as hard for them.”
The high school chose to send its students to Presque Isle because the school already has an arrangement that allows it to send students to the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. The magnet school also has an arrangement with UMPI that allows MSSM faculty to take teacher education classes at the college while the Limestone school hosts UMPI student teaching interns.
“This is just a nice chance to allow our students to experience an American college,” said Lu. “These kids have never been abroad before, and it has been a very good experience. We spent time in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and we also toured the Maine School of Science and Mathematics. Everywhere we have gone, people have been very friendly and willing to help us. It has been wonderful.”
In addition to taking classes, the Chinese students have tried ceramics, toured the school farm at Presque Isle High School and used UMPI’s climbing wall.
Larry Zhu, 16, said he has loved his American experience.
“The classes and all of the activities in the morning and evening have given us a chance to expand our English skills,” he said Thursday afternoon. “It has also given us a better look at American life.”
Zhu said he loves math and wants to major in either math or chemistry in college. And he already has an institution picked out — he hopes to get into the University of California, Berkeley.
Zillman said the week has been good for both the students and the college, and he anticipates that UMPI will host similar groups of international students in the future.