Some Reminders for US Higher Education Colleagues: It’s Still a Jungle Out There

Courtesy of IT Governance Services

My first post of Solar 2022!

When it comes to working with partners in the educational consulting industry, choose carefully, as with all relationships, personal and professional. Here are some of the unethical practices I’ve written about that continue unabated because of a lack of oversight and accountability in this sector either here or in the host country, in this case, the US.

Faux letters of recommendation: The current reality is that most teachers in Viet Nam are overworked and underpaid. Most do not have the time to write “reclets”, the term students use to describe these letters. As a result, student applicants often get to say nice things about themselves. This includes creating fake web-based email addresses to use for the Common App. Cheating knows no location, social class, or IQ. It is the path of less resistance and expediency in the spirit of success without integrity is failure.

Companies that claim to have “special connections” with admission staff at highly selective colleges and universities: Yes, this is a marketing ploy but you could also have one member of an admission committee at top-ranked Institution A who is happy to advocate for a particular Vietnamese student. What are friends for, not to mention the possibility of some kind of tangible or intangible reward.

Essay “outsourcing” and plagiarism: It’s old-fashioned, I know, but still a common practice. Paying someone to write the essay for you or lifting content from other people’s work is easier than doing it yourself. Admission offices should screen every essay for plagiarism, says this blogger, dreamily.

Triple-dipping: Some companies take a hefty fee, 10% of any scholarship awarded to their student clients, and a commission, if applicable. I call it the trifecta of the educational consulting industry. It’s also an unethical way to diversify revenue streams. Is it OK with you, dear colleague, that 10% of the merit-based scholarship your committee awarded to a qualified and deserving student (and that s/he earned) improves the bottom line of an already fat and happy educational consulting company?

Financial aid fraud: Yes, there are plenty of people of means who are happy to take your institution’s precious financial aid. Follow the lead of the US Mission in Viet Nam and elsewhere: Don’t trust documents. It’s fairly easy to determine a family’s income and wealth in the US; not so in Viet Nam, but trusted people on the ground can still get a good idea. Trust but verify, as the US and former Soviet Union once did in the context of SALT. My educated guess is that millions of dollars in aid are awarded to students who don’t deserve them. Some institutions don’t mind; it’s viewed as a price of “doing business,” aid money as a bargaining chip. Others are blissfully unaware but would mind if they only knew.

NOTE: I focus on US HE institutions in this post because they offer more merit-based scholarships and financial aid packages than any system in the world. Some of the above is also applicable to other host countries.

Postscript: This page lists some of the articles I’ve written or co-authored over the years about education agents and commissions-based international student recruitment.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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