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On the campus of Princeton University in New Jersey
On the campus of Princeton University in New Jersey

The case of Hanxiang Ni, a University of Iowa student who was expelled last month for posting a photo of himself holding a gun and threatening to kill his professors, has turned new attention to the growing number of Chinese students enrolled in — and kicked out of — U.S. academic institutions.

Attendance is up, but so too are cases of expulsion, mainly due to poor academic performance, but also because of cheating and other ethical issues, the Qianjiang Evening News reports.

Data from the Chinese Education Ministry shows China as the world's top country for exporting students, often to the United States. In 2013, as many as 420,000 Chinese students enrolled in U.S. schools, many in graduate and undergraduate programs.

While a large number of those students go on to successful careers, some run into serious problems in their respective schools. A study conducted by WholeRen, an education consultancy specializing in foreign studies, showed that, in 2014 alone, 8,000 Chinese students at all levels of education were dismissed from U.S. schools.

Based on a sample of 1,657 such cases (from between 2013-2015), WholeRen found that 57% of the expulsions were due to appalling academic performance. Nearly 23% of the students, on the other hand, were booted for cheating on exams, plagiarism, forging a teacher's signature or other kinds of dishonest behavior.

The numbers may have something to do with differences in how the U.S. and Chinese university systems operate. In China, gaining entrance into a university can be difficult. But once there, students have little difficulty graduating. The drop-out rate stands at just 3%. In the United States, in contrast, only 56% of university students finish their studies within six years, according to a Harvard University study cited in the Qianjiang article. For students used to the Chinese system, the U.S. reality can come as a nasty surprise.

Chen, WholeRen's development officer, says that in the past, Chinese students attending foreign schools hailed mostly from the social elite and tended to follow a strict work ethic. Now, though, more and more students come from nouveau riche families. They've never learned to work hard and struggle academically, he suggests.

Chen also argues that Chinese students, at all levels, lack basic knowledge of academic norms such as how to properly cite a reference. Chinese college students will often quote large segments of other people's work without acknowledging the source, not because they're trying to be dishonest, but because they haven't been taught to do things otherwise.

"To a large extent, the behavior of Chinese students is affected by cultural differences and the environment," Chen says.

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