This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: April 7, 2005

Steven L. Shaw is the director of international admissions. He has more than 20 years experience in international education. He lived in Asia for nearly 10 of those years and has directed UB programs in Cambodia and Malaysia.

What is the Office of International Admissions and how is it different from the Office of Admissions?
The Office of International Admissions was formed in 1999 to handle the admissions processing for international applicants exclusively. The Office of Admissions, which reports to Patricia Armstrong, handles domestic applications, those of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Why was a separate office created?
Under the leadership of Joseph Hindrawan, director of international enrollment management, international inquiries and applications skyrocketed. A separate office with staff skilled in foreign credential evaluation ensured that international applications were reviewed quickly and accurately. My staff now reviews and processes more than 2,000 undergraduate applications and some 2,500 graduate applications annually. The separate office with specialized staff has contributed to our success in achieving our ambitious international enrollment targets.

Your office admits graduate students?
Not directly. It's a decentralized process. Individual graduate programs receive and process international applications and offer initial or pending offers of admission to international students. We provide training and resources to graduate departments so that they can review foreign documents and make their initial offers. Those students' application dossiers are then sent to my office for final review. We verify transcripts and degrees, test scores and financial documents, and then issue the required immigration documents.

Isn't it rather backward that your office reviews applications after graduate departments have conducted their reviews and made offers?
There are different models and organizational structures in admissions processing; each model has advantages and disadvantages with different efficiencies. Some universities, like the University at Albany and even a large school like the University of Southern California, have a more centralized review process where applications are received in one central office, cleared for minimum requirements and then sent to departments for admission decisions. UB has a decentralized graduate admissions structure. Perhaps it's not the most efficient method, but with extensive training and resources, it works fairly well overall. This decentralized approach requires that each department understands hundreds of foreign educational systems and grading systems, and when errors occur and are caught at the end of the process in the international admissions review, it means the offers are put on hold or withdrawn.

It sounds highly specialized.
It's certainly complex. For example, when the Soviet Union was dissolved there were suddenly, almost overnight, more than a dozen new countries, new educational documents and new grading systems. Or take the case of India, where there are a few hundred universities with thousands of affiliated teaching colleges; there is a vast difference in the quality of education and a grade of "A" from one institution is not necessarily equivalent to an "A" from another institution. Or consider the European Bologna Accord, which calls for 40 signatory countries to adopt a uniform system of undergraduate and graduate degrees by 2010-entirely new degrees and grading systems already are coming on line. The expertise and commitment for conducting research, constantly searching out new information and disseminating that knowledge to the university community resides in the Office of International Admissions. We conduct workshops, offer consulting services and maintain an extensive international education database with information about international educational systems, colleges and universities, and specific grading systems and UB equivalencies.

You mentioned testing earlier. Does your office administer or select the tests that international students are required to take?
Once again, not directly. We implement the university's policies regarding English language proficiency. The International Student Policy Committee (ISPC) is responsible for setting and reviewing many of these policies. For example, we'll soon be reviewing the new TOEFL exam and setting minimum standards. Keith Otto, director of ESL Programs at the English Language Institute, administers TOEFL and SPEAK tests to those students who are required to take it on-site.

What is the new TOEFL?
TOEFL stands for the Test of English as a Foreign Language; it is owned and administered by ETS (Educational Testing Services, Inc.). TOEFL is used to measure English language proficiency and it's a requirement for admission. ETS will be launching the Next Generation TOEFL this September, with a complete phase-in by 2007. The test will also be known as the iBT TOEFL-iBT stands for Internet-based test. The iBT TOEFL will be delivered over the Internet at secure test centers around the world. Most importantly, the new TOEFL will assess all four language skills-reading, writing, listening and speaking-in integrated, communicative situations.

What will the minimum cut-off scores be for the new iBT TOEFL?
That hasn't been determined yet. A special subcommittee of the International Student Policy Committee will be meeting over the next several months to review the test, conduct standards-setting analysis and then establish recommendations for the ISPC and the Graduate School. This will be followed by a public information campaign and departmental training.

Most of your answers have dealt with graduate concerns. Are your processes essentially the same for international undergraduate applicants?
Not at all. The international undergraduate admissions process is centralized and all steps from A to Z occur through our office. About 75 percent of our undergraduate time is devoted to credential evaluation, transfer-credit evaluation, committee review for decisions and immigration documentation. The other 25 percent of our undergraduate time is devoted to follow-up and yield-enhancement activities. Elizabeth White, assistant director, is responsible for our interactive Web-based communication and e-flyers. Amy Matikosh, international admissions advisor, is in charge of the very innovative International Admissions Ambassador Program, staffed by a group of UB international students who telephone, email and instant-message prospective students. These programs have increased our international undergraduate enrollment yields an average of 20 percent annually over the past several years.

What question do you wish I had asked, and how would you have answered it?
How have you and your staff gained the knowledge and expertise in foreign credential evaluation and international admissions? We are fortunate to have had excellent training and in-service opportunities provided by the Office of International Education. UB's international admissions staff members are now recognized leaders in the field and often are called upon to present at national and international conferences, workshops and seminars. We receive many calls and emails asking for our advice and expertise; I feel very fortunate to work with such a talented group of professional staff and student assistants-without such dedicated personnel we would not have the excellence of service and success that we now have.