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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2011

UT sets out to attract Chinese students

Mark Schroeder, the University of Toledo's assistant director of external affairs, stands at the top of the Empire Building in Shenzhen, China. He's working to recruit Chinese students to attend UT. Mark Schroeder, the University of Toledo's assistant director of external affairs, stands at the top of the Empire Building in Shenzhen, China. He's working to recruit Chinese students to attend UT.

QINHUANGDAO, China -- The University of Toledo's Mark Schroeder has crisscrossed China seven times, sometimes visiting the far reaches of the country and even some mountainous region cities other college recruiters probably couldn't find on a map.

UT already has good branding here and a signed relationship with Yanshan University in Qinhuangdao -- Toledo's coastal sister city that is a four-hour drive from Beijing. But Mr. Schroeder, UT's assistant director of external affairs, takes buses, trains, and airplanes to schools in places like Urumqi in the northwest of the People's Republic.

Guangzhong Chen, UT's China recruitment adviser, went along with Toledo's first delegation to Qinhuangdao in 1992, when he was president of the UT Chinese Association.

"We now have more than 200 students from Yanshan," Mr. Chen said. "The first group came in 2006. Some find jobs in the U.S. and stay there while some go back to China, but they usually all come for the whole degree and most of them go to the business school."

The UT-Yanshan University relationship started in 2005. The following year, then-UT President Dan Johnson and former Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority President James Hartung organized a delegation of 17 people to visit Qinhuangdao.

"During that trip, we met with the China Education Ministry and talked about setting up the Confucius Institute [at UT] and in 2009, we finally got the Confucius Institute, which connects a lot with Yanshan University," Mr. Chen said.

The tie is so close, a Yanshan faculty member is appointed as the associate director of the Confucius Institute.

Mr. Schroeder, Mr. Chen, and Joseph Shapiro, UT's associate dean for business development, have been with Mayor Mike Bell's delegation for part of the time so far in four major Chinese cities beginning last week. During a daylong stop in Qinhuangdao Tuesday -- where Mr. Bell was taken around the city by special escort and a guest of honor of Qinhuangdao Mayor Zhu Haowen -- Mr. Schroeder was bouncing from high school to high school. His job is basically selling the University of Toledo.

"There are a number of excellent high schools that Dr. Chen has connections to and a lot of the students want to come to the United States," Mr. Schroeder said. "UT has a growing reputation in China and a lot of that comes from word-of-mouth and reputation."

He said a big attraction for Qinhuangdao teenagers is a UT program in which they can learn English there before starting degree coursework. Additionally, students from Yanshan, or living in any of Toledo's sister cities around the globe, pay in-state tuition -- giving them a savings of $9,120 a year.

"Our international students, when they come on a visa, they stay for the full four years, the retention rate is 98 percent, and they finish on time," Mr. Schroeder said. "The retention is so high because their parents are spending a lot of money for them to go and plus, they are culturally motivated to do well."

Mayor Zhu, during a lunch Tuesday for the Toledo delegation visiting his city, said Yanshan students, as well as doctors working in the Toledo hospitals, have always returned to Qinhuangdao with "very favorable impressions."

While the city of Toledo is trying to get Chinese businesses to look at the city, UT and area hospitals have already taken advantage of sister-city relationships for cultural exchange. Mr. Bell said UT's strong ties to Yanshan and other international schools help convince some Toledoans who might not see the value in looking beyond the U.S. borders.

"Our partners like UT have been able to reach out for years, and do so successfully," the mayor said Wednesday after leaving Qinhuangdao for Beijing International Airport so he could board a flight to Hangzhou, China.

"Although this may be new on the city government side, it is not for many others, so it is a matter of trying to get ahead of the curve as opposed to being behind the curve."

Amy Chang, a cellist with the Toledo Symphony who was included in the mayor's trade mission delegation, soon will say goodbye to her Sylvania Southview daughter, Abijah Simon, when she leaves to attend school at Yanshan.

"She went to Inner Mongolia two summers ago and came back just loving the culture," Ms. Chang said. "She speaks Chinese and reads Chinese but just conversationally, so she wants to have a better understanding of the language."

Zhang Wenli, Yanshan University vice dean of the college of international exchange, who was vice president of the Confucius Institute while in Toledo, said her UT students learning Chinese will have "definitely good opportunities" after graduation. Ms. Zhang was Mr. Schroeder's Chinese teacher the first semester it was offered.

Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Chen parted ways with the mayor Wednesday at the Beijing airport. Neither has been with the mayor for long during the trip to China. Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Chen left to recruit other Chinese students.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com, or 419-724-6171.

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