Financial Aid for Vietnamese Students?

financial aid

If your institution awards financial aid to Vietnamese students, I hope your approach is of the “trust but verify” variety.  Not all parents and students are honest, and Viet Nam is no exception.  Many people of means are happy to game the system and accept financial aid, if they can get it.

I remember a story about a highly selective liberal arts college in the US, which shall remain unnamed to protect the victimized, that awarded a generous financial aid package to a Vietnamese student.  Once said student showed up on campus, other Vietnamese knew that her family was rich and that the school had wasted valuable financial aid funding on an undeserving student.  The result was loss of institutional face and resources that could have helped a deserving student.  

Another more recent story is about a state university that automatically awarded a certain amount of financial aid to ALL Vietnamese students, as if all Vietnamese were poor and deserved it.  No due diligence.  Apply, get admitted and, bingo!, you’re golden.  Again, a waste of financial aid dollars that could have gone to qualified and deserving students.

What To Do?

How to screen students?  I remember working with one boarding school that offered a fabulous scholarship at their school and an undergraduate education at any university in the world.  They were looking specifically for an economically disadvantaged yet high-achieving Vietnamese high school student.  The selection process included sending staff to the finalists homes to interview them and their parents, and also to make sure they weren’t living in a million-dollar home or driving a luxury automobile.  Seeing is believing, to a certain extent, and it worked.

This due diligence is likely to incur an additional cost, given the staff time involved.  That’s something institutions should keep in mind. 

Some colleagues attempt to obtain this information from the education agents they work with.  That requires a high degree of trust, which is not always present.  

The safer and less costly alternative is to stick to merit-based scholarships that are linked to objective criteria such as standardized test scores, high school GPAs, and interviews.  The one drawback is that urban students from higher social classes disproportionately benefit from this approach.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

P.S.:  I wrote about this issue three years ago.  Given what I’ve heard recently from various colleagues, it’s worth revisiting.  

How a Chinese company bought access to admissions officers at top U.S. colleges

dipont-logoKudos to the four (4) Reuters reporters for their outstanding work on this investigative report.  Only when this type of unethical behavior sees the publication light of day and the proverbial shit hits the fan is there any action, in most cases.  While there are some Vietnamese companies that would love to have this kind of reach and influence, I don’t think any do…yet.

There are companies that are happy to write statements of purpose (SOPs) and “teacher” letters of recommendation for students whose goal is to gain admission to a highly selective institution, and are richly rewarded for doing so. It’s not that the young people in question are poor students, it’s that an “enhanced profile” may result in more scholarship funding.

no cheatingParents and students who work with these types of companies can be viewed as willing co-conspirators.  The former view this partnership in unethical conduct and the upfront costs associated with it (think 5-10-15k or much more) as an “investment” in their children’s future.  Ideally, the ROI is a generous scholarship package and, of course, bragging rights.

Does it work?  In most cases, yes.  Why?  Because US colleagues do not have enough time or resources to verify as part of the “trust but verify” process.  This explains the growing popularity of video interviews because, to a certain extent, seeing and hearing are believing.


P.S.:  Gotta love the name of the offending company. Kinda reminds me of the name of a certain famous family associated with my home state of Delaware.  Hint:  think gunpowder and chemicals. 😉

“Regulators Vote to Shut Down Nation’s Largest For-Profit Accrediting Agency”

The vote came after widespread criticism that the agency had provided inadequate oversight. 

ACICS logoSome good news for a change. “Inadequate oversight” is one way of  putting it.  This organization, which was entrusted with the sacred task of accrediting postsecondary institutions, abdicated its responsibility in a number of cases, pure and simple.  Why is the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the largest for-profit accreditor in the US, going the way of the dinosaur?  Because someone with power, someone in an official capacity, was finally on to them.  How?  Because of the outstanding work of two investigative reporters from BuzzFeed.  (See the two articles below.)  I’ve been writing about bottom feeder nationally accredited institutions and the lack of oversight for years but I was just a lone voice in the higher education wilderness.

Making The Grades
How one California university faked students’ scores, skated by immigration authorities — and made a fortune in the process. (5/16)

These Obscure Colleges Sign Up Thousands Of Foreign Students With Little Oversight
The little-known Northwestern Polytechnic University now enrolls more international students than almost any other U.S. college. (1/16)

Regulators Vote to Shut Down Nation’s Largest For-Profit Accrediting Agency

In a huge victory for opponents of for-profit schools, a federal panel voted Thursday to shut down the largest accrediting agency of private sector colleges and universities amid intense criticism in recent years for loose oversight of educational institutions.

The 10-3 decision, handed down Thursday by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, effectively eliminates access to federal financial aid to hundreds of schools accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools that enroll nearly 800,000 students.

To read the article in its entirety, feast your eyes here.

Perhaps there will be some future posts about the ripple effect of this historic vote to shut down ACICS, including the impact on entities that represent “officially accredited” US colleges and universities, i.e., EducationUSA, and those that allow their certified agents to work with these institutions, e.g., the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC). Stay tuned!

I won’t say “I told you so” just a heartfelt and hearty “Farewell, ACICS!”  Many of us in the know won’t miss you.  It’s high time for whatever replaces you and many of your accredited institutions to take their game to the next level, or become irrelevant.


California South University: Fraud Alert!

Here’s another less-than-stellar California-based institution of higher education.  Note:  “California South University” is not to be confused with “California Southern University”, which has institutional accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC/regional) and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC/national).

As you can see on the 29.6.16 screenshots below, CSU makes two claims:  1)  it is accredited by the DETC, now known as the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC); and 2) it is “in the process of being an accredited Member of the Distance Education and Training Council…”  Neither assertion is true.  (If you don’t believe me, check with DEAC yourself.)

If you Google “california south university vietnam”, one of the first results, if not the first, is this blog post of mine from January 2011 entitled “where can i buy an accredited overseas phd?”  The second post in that series was uploaded a month later:  “CSU” Reprise (aka The Other Shoe Just Dropped).

cal south detc

cal south univ

Why are schools like CSU allowed to exist?  Because the “free market” is too free, the system is broken,  no one’s jamming their transmission and, at the end of the day, no one’s minding the store.  The US Department of Education has a lot of work to do, which it should be doing on a systematic rather than a piecemeal basis a la Northwestern Polytechnic University, the result of superb investigative reporting by BuzzFeed.


“Making The Grades”

How one California university faked students’ scores, skated by immigration authorities — and made a fortune in the process.

I derive absolutely no pleasure at all from saying “I told you so.”  (OK, maybe just a little.)  This is an issue I have been talking and writing about for years.  I think the only reason the US government made the decision to finally focus on it and target Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) as a poster boy for bad higher education behavior is because of the outstanding investigative reporting of BuzzFeed.  I can assure you there are more where this came from.  Oh, and NPU is nationally accredited by ACICS, which the US Department of Education has recommended be closed.  Coincidence, anyone? 

Congratulations to Molly Hensley-Clancy and her BuzzFeed colleagues!


A college on the edge of Silicon Valley has turned itself into an upmarket visa mill, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found, deploying a system of fake grades and enabling thousands of foreign students to enter the United States each year — while generating millions of dollars in tuition revenue for the school and the family who controls it.

Spending millions on foreign recruiters, Northwestern Polytechnic University enrolls 99% of its students — more than 6,000 overall last year — from overseas, with little regard for their qualifications. It has no full-time, permanent faculty, despite having a student body larger than the undergraduate population of Princeton.

The school issues grades that are inflated, or simply made up, so that academically unqualified students can keep their visas, along with the overseas bank loans that allow the students to pay their tuition. For two years, top college administrators forbade professors from failing any students at all, and the university’s president once personally raised hundreds of student grades — by hand.

Those false credentials are all the students need to stay in the country. Many seek jobs in the tech industry, and their degrees allow them to remain working in the U.S. for years, avoiding the scrutiny of immigration officials that would have come if they had applied for a standard work visa.

The university operates as a nonprofit, with all the tax benefits that status confers. But its assets, which topped $77 million in 2014, have enriched the family that has controlled it for decades. The school has purchased homes for family members to live in, one of which cost more than $2 million. When it comes to educating students, however, NPU has spent astonishingly little. The $1.5 million it paid for a home occupied by the executive vice president and his family was more than it reported spending on the combined salaries of the school’s entire faculty and staff in 2014.

Even the university’s academic accreditation — which the school relied on in order to admit a flood of foreign students — is suspect: When the accreditor came for a site visit, the university staged a Potemkin village of a college, enlisting instructors to pretend they were full-time professors, prepping students with false answers to inspectors’ questions, and once even hiring a fake librarian.

When a whistleblower handed over a letter detailing the college’s bad behavior, the accreditor asked for a thin explanation, accepted it at face value, and issued no sanctions.

NPU looks very different than the handful of unaccredited, for-profit visa mills that were exposed and shut down after a government crackdown in 2011. It has far more students, and they do attend classes with teachers. Some of its students say they got valuable educations.

NPU’s president, Peter Hsieh, and his second-in-command, Paul Choi, refused through a representative to answer any questions in person or by phone when a reporter came to the university’s campus and to a conference in Dallas where Choi was in attendance. Through the representative, Hsieh and Choi asked to speak with an editor to discuss potential legal action against a person they believed was a source for the article.

In response to BuzzFeed News’ detailed outline of the allegations in this story, Hsieh wrote that the school offers a high-quality education to future business and technology leaders and has made “significant strides” in his time as president. The university, he said, maintains its fiduciary responsibility to its students, investing in quality faculty and planning for facilities improvements.

The school “denies your allegations of impropriety,” Hsieh wrote. He said that the school is “designing new policies for proper grade differentiation and thoroughly investigating and addressing academic deficiencies” and has spent “hundreds of hours updating and improving financial practices.”

“We have taken your allegations – albeit unfounded – seriously”

“We do not believe this is the proper forum to discuss the intricacies and operational details of NPU,” Hsieh wrote. “That said, we have taken your allegations — albeit unfounded — seriously, and will give them careful attention.”

BuzzFeed News has examined a trove of internal university documents, including more than a thousand of pages of bank statements, emails, and student records, and interviewed more than a dozen current and former students, faculty, and staff.

What emerged is a portrait of a university that epitomizes many of the key weaknesses in the American higher education and immigration systems: an institution that has used its nonprofit status to enrich its leaders and used its accreditation to dodge more stringent national security requirements.

Follow this link to read the rest of the article.

Financial Aid: Don’t Trust, Verify!

financial aidTaking the theme of gaming the system and running with it,  there is also the issue of financial aid and how to determine need, which becomes much more difficult once you begin evaluating international student applications.

There are schools that award some type of financial aid to all admitted Vietnamese students.  Others, especially the more selective institutions with healthy endowments that wish to assist qualified students who could not otherwise afford the high cost of their education, also award millions of dollars in financial aid.  Essentially and to put it bluntly, these schools are looking for smart, poor kids.  They are out there but it’s bit like mining for gold.  You need to sift through a lot of ore to find the nuggets of gold.  (As in other countries, including the US, there is a strong correlation between opportunity and social class.)

What happens a school makes a mistake, i.e,. awards financial aid to a smart, rich kid?  1)  The school could lose face because other students from the same country may know about the newbie’s parents and their wealth, which means the joke is on the school; and 2) it’s a waste of the school’s precious resources, which could have benefited a truly qualified and deserving student.

verifyThe bottom line is that even many wealthy parents want scholarships and financial aid for their children.  Why?  Bragging rights and a way of defraying the cost even, if money is no object.

As you may have already surmised, based on the title of this post, my advice is to verify not trust.  By that I mean perform your due diligence and find someone honest and reliable on the ground to get the scoop.  This would include, for example, a visit to the student’s home because seeing is believing, to some extent.  This exercise will save your institution money and the embarrassment of having a scholarship recipient show up on campus who other students from the same country know is not deserving of a need-based scholarship, to put it mildly.


Of Letters of Recommendation, Smoke & Mirrors

common app logo

I’ve written quite a bit about gaming the system here because it’s such a common occurrence in US higher education admission among many international students in Vietnam and elsewhere.  Why take the long way home when you can take a shortcut, right?  Improve your chances, use your God-given intelligence and ingenuity, keep your ear to the ground and walk through those whale-sized loopholes.

Yet another example is the Common Application, known as the Common App, a not-for-profit membership organization that serves students, member institutions, and secondary schools by providing applications that students and school officials may submit to any of its over 500 members.  As the website points out, “membership is open to colleges and universities that promote access by evaluating students using a holistic selection process.”

Is the system secure?  Yes, in that individual student, referee and institutional accounts are secure.  Is it subject to fraud?  In other words, can it be gamed?  In a word, absolutely.  All it takes is some patience and an efficient record keeping system.  Hard to get a teacher letter of recommendation?  No problem – draft your own (or have your unscrupulous agent do it for you for an additional fee), create her/his own web-based email account and pretend to be your teacher!  Hint:  Be careful how to word your letter so as to avoid duplication and possible detection.  Will it work in most cases?  Yes, because most admission officers just don’t have the time to check on the authenticity of your letters.

Why game the system?  Not to gain admission to your school of choice, especially if you’re a “talented and gifted” student, but to obtain a more generous scholarship package.  With a minimal investment of elbow grease and admission sleight of hand the ROI can be impressive.

smoke and mirrorsThis is just another step in crafting custom-designed applications to the US colleges and universities and giving admission committees exactly what they want, even if it doesn’t exactly reflect reality.  The solution, i.e., how to fight back?  Spot check letters and/or develop software (or use an existing system) that allows admission offices to compare letters and email accounts, especially for students applying from the same countries.  It’s a piece of cake.  Jump on the bandwagon.  Fight fraud with technology.