In the 21st century, the enrollment of international students in U.S. higher education has increased sharply. When their enrollment number is growing, the student success of international students contributes to student success in U.S. higher education. Fass-Holmes and Vaughn (2014, 2015) argued that the increase in international students has been accompanied by a campus-wide generalization that these students are struggling academically and are increasingly at risk of academic probation, disqualification, and/or dismissal from the university. As the largest international student population in U.S. higher education for the 2015/2016 academic year, Chinese international students made up 31.5% of all international students in the U.S.(Institute of International Education, 2017). Meanwhile, this student population experiences challenges in their transition in U.S. colleges, and academic probation is one challenge that Chinese international undergraduate students have.
Being on academic probation has negative impacts on students’ persistence and retention rates and 4,5,6-year graduation rates. College students on academic probation tended to be younger than the general population and included a disproportionate number of male students, students of color, first-generation students, and international students (Spurling & Gabriner, 2003; Tovar & Simon, 2006). Although related research and media reports have documented that Chinese international students are now facing a variety of difficulties in their education in America (FlorCruz, 2013; Liu, Brancato, & Da, 2014, Luo, 2013), the academic research about Chinese international undergraduate students who are on academic probation is very rare. Thus, it is vital to have academic research to explore why those Chinese international students are on academic probation.
This mixed-method study used a Research I university as the research site to explore why those first-year Chinese international students ended up on academic probation after their first semester. The conceptual framework is the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative Student Success Model, which has three independent variables: academic proficiency, institutional navigation, and socio-emotional engagement (Royal, Noto, High McCord, & Pitcher, 2015).
In order to explore the deep reasons for those Chinese international students being on academic probation, this study has four research questions:
1. What are the trends in first-year Chinese international students who are on academic probation after their first semester?
2. Are there correlations between their academic performance and their English proficiency (TOEFL scores) and pre-college knowledge (SAT/ACT scores)?
3. How were their academic performances in the courses (grade in each course) they enrolled in their first semester?
4. How do first-year Chinese international undergraduate students perceive and make sense of being on academic probation after their first semester?
In data analysis, students’ educational records, survey data, and interview data showed the general trends are the academic performance of first-year Chinese international students who were on academic probation after their first semester was worse by year, and those students more likely graduated from the international high school system in China. The statistic results demonstrated students’ mean of total TOEFL scores, total SAT scores, and total ACT scores, are inversely correlated with their first semester GPAs. Students who earned the lowest semester GPA (GPA=0.0) had the highest mean of total scores in TOEFL, SAT, and ACT. Students’ educational records demonstrate that they had poor GPAs in two categories of courses: one is courses in STEM fields and the other is courses that need high commitment and devotion to course. The survey data and interview data showed students’ pre-college academic achievement and preparedness were not good enough to be competent to the academic requirements of the research site. For example, among the 20 interviewees, most of them reported having unbalanced academic proficiency in different subjects, especially low academic proficiency in STEM field courses, which significantly impact their academic achievement in college. Heikinheimo and Shute (1986) determined that one of the most difficult adjustment areas for international students is language skills. However, English skills were not identified as one top reason of being on academic probation by participants in both survey data and interview data. The Top 2 reasons for being on academic probation are not studying (hard) and having a poor learning attitude. The main reason for being on academic probation in academic proficiency is poor academic preparation in K-12 education, not English skill. In addition, most interviewees reported that being on academic probation increased their psychological pressure and/or caused mental health issues.
This study strongly demonstrated the problems in institutional navigation and socio-emotional engagement actually play much more important roles in participant’s’ academic performance than academic proficiency. The main finding is participants’ main goal was to get an admission letter from a U.S. university, so they only prepared the study abroad tests, not for study abroad. This study showed participants lacked the essential knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful in their college learning. Therefore, the related supporting programs need to focus on equipping academic probationary Chinese international students with those knowledge, skills, and abilities, rather than only addressing on English skills, in order to improve their academic performance.”
Jianyang Mei is a Ph.D. in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education, at Michigan State University (MSU). Jianyang has 14 years of working experience in higher education in the U.S. and China, including teaching, academic advising, international student advising, research, and curriculum and program design and assessment. She is very passionate about student success and closing the graduation gaps among college students from different racial and cultural backgrounds, especially the student success of international students. Jianyang’s research interests include student success and retention, transition and adaptation of international students, teaching and learning, educational technology, study abroad program, and second language acquisition.
To contact Jianyang Mei, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.