SOE News

Yan Zhang, visiting scholar, studies educational policy

Yan Zhang, founder and vice-president of Yan An University in Xi An, China, has joined the School of Education faculty as a visiting scholar from February 2006 through January 2007. She will study theories of privatization of education and higher education administration, observe the operation and administration of private colleges and universities in America, and pursue opportunities for collaborative research. Her sponsor is Dean Thomas James, assisted by Associate Professor Xue Lan Rong.

Zhang holds a baccalaureate degree in political science from Shaan Xi Normal University and a master’s degree from China’s Northwest University of Political Science and Law. She is currently pursuing doctoral study in the Graduate School of Education, Department of Economics and Management of Education, at Peking University. 

Over the last 13 years, Zhang has founded three private schools in China, ranging from grade school through university. In 1993, she founded the Xi’An SanRui School, China’s first private, non-governmental grade school. It currently enrolls 600 students in grades 1 through 12.

In 1999, she founded a private, three-year college, the Xi’An Oriental YaTai College, which now consists of eight departments offering 15 programs to 3,000 students.

Five years later, she founded a private, four-year university, the Xi’An Creative School of Yan’An, which currently enrolls 5,000 students in 19 programs across eight departments.  

Zhang serves as the vice-president for personnel and finance of Yan An University and in a similar role at Oriental YaTai College.

“Yan is really a pioneer in education in China,” said Associate Professor Xue Lan Rong. “China has had no private education until very recently. Until then, all education has been run by the government.”

In her work to bring educational reform and private education to China, Zhang has faced many challenges. For example, some prospective financial investors have been hesitant to offer support because there is no government guarantee backing private schools. Governmental officials have sometimes expressed concern that prospective investors might be more interested in financial profit than in the educational functions of the school.

“Private schools are overwhelmingly difficult to start in China,” Rong stated. “There are many barriers and there is no government support.”  

During her year as a visiting scholar at the School of Education, Zhang plans to read and study about theories and policies of higher education in America, particularly focusing on the privatization of education. She hopes to meet administrators of private colleges and universities, exchange ideas with them and observe the institutions in order to understand the challenges they face and how they meet those challenges.

She also will pursue opportunities for collaborative research with American educators. She is interested in conducting comparative institutional studies focusing on issues such as enrollment, curriculum development, instructional administration and international collaboration.

“I think I can learn a lot from my visiting scholar’s experience in the United States and contribute significantly to theory and practice in my field,” Zhang wrote in her letter of application.

Zhang can be contacted at the School of Education by email at