US Education Admission – By Hook or By Crook

Everyone knows of the smart kid who decided to apply “DIY” and then wasn’t accepted—and they don’t want to risk being  the next one. Unfortunately, there’s a sense in China that the honest applicants are the chumps. (What Students in China Have Taught Me About U.S. College Admissions, Terry Crawford, The Atlantic, 6.1.15)

fraudThere’s editing and then there’s EDITING.  You know, the kind when it looks like admission essays supposedly written by the same student look like they were written by two different people – one by the student him/herself and the other by a paid (native-speaker or US-educated?) “helper” with a more sophisticated mastery of the language and a much more extensive vocabulary.

Need some help with that pesky essay?  Let your fingers do the writing, copy and paste-style.  Just Google it!  From the perspective of those of us who have read our fair share of admission essays over the years it’s easy as pie to spot “enhanced” essays over the garden-variety ones.

Speaking of Google, the best thing since sliced bread and itself a double-edged sword, it’s also easy to spot language that was permanently borrowed from another source without attribution.  Enter the suspicious-looking phrase with the big words into Google’s magic search engine (or any number of sites designed to detect plagiarism), hit enter and, bingo, there’s the original source!

no cheatingAs China goes, so too, Vietnam, among other countries in Asia and elsewhere.  As the above Atlantic article makes clear, one popular way to gain a competitive edge is to cheat and deceive.  That’s a sad lesson to teach young people who end up becoming co-conspirators in their own admission process.  The silver lining is that those students who are admitted to US secondary or postsecondary education quickly discover the importance of academic honesty and the risks of academic dishonesty because it’s one of the topics covered in international student orientations is academic dishonesty, including plagiarism.  Every institution has an academic honor code and punishment is general severe for those – US and international students – caught violating this or any other aspect of it.


“What Students in China Have Taught Me About U.S. College Admissions”

So what’s an international admission officer to do? These individuals admittedly have their work cut out for them in a way that domestic admission officers do not. Domestic admission officers have mounds of historical data upon which they can project matriculation percentages, future GPA, and graduation rates. International admission officers—in order to do things the right way—must get comfortable making decisions with incomplete information and exercising their discretion. They have to look past documents, which can be easily falsified. They have to look past standardized test scores because the emphasis on these numbers distorts the entire high school experience. They have to spend time in China and other foreign countries, and employ all means of modern communication technology to try to get a sense of each student. In short, they have to practice true holistic admissions.  (my bold)
“What Students in China Have Taught Me About U.S. College Admissions” by Terry Crawford, The Atlantic, 6.1.15

no cheating As this excellent article by Terry Crawford makes clear, an acceptable way to gain a competitive edge in the US higher education application process in China is to cheat.  While you can rant and rave about the immorality of this state of affairs, this is the reality and Mr. Crawford’s company, InitialView, and others like it are meeting a real need in the marketplace by encouraging institutions recruiting in China to adopt true holistic approach to admissions through the use of technology.

If you will permit me to indulge in some “moralizing lite” for just a moment, involving young people as co-conspirators in their own admission process is a sad lesson to teach them about academic honesty and honesty in general, in my opinion.  (As a counterpoint to excessive moralizing, however, it must be acknowledged that parents and students are forced to adapt to situations not envisioned by those who create admission policies in very different cultural contexts.)  The silver lining is that students admitted to US and other foreign secondary and postsecondary institutions will quickly discover its importance, along with the risks of academic dishonesty.  In the meantime, the more tools institutions have at their disposal that enable them to “look past documents” and make better informed admission decisions about their applicants, the better.


Not All US Higher Education Fairs Are Created Equal: Part II

Only regionally accredited colleges and universities are allowed to participate in Capstone StudyUSA Higher Education Fairs.
Only regionally accredited colleges and universities such as Carroll University (WI) are allowed to participate in Capstone Vietnam’s StudyUSA Higher Education Fairs.

Truth in advertising:  A fairly legal definition is advertisements that do not make misleading, false, or deceptive claims.  So let’s say Wonderful Educational Consulting  Company is organizing a US higher education fair series and they state in their publicity that only regionally accredited (RA) colleges and universities are permitted to join.  Wouldn’t you logically expect to see only RA institutions represented?

In fact, there are some companies and organizations that make this claim and then do the old bait-and-switch by including nationally accredited (NA) schools.  Why?  In the case of the latter because someone most likely dropped the ball and in the case of the former because money trumps quality.  They say it because it sounds good and they think it’s what US colleagues want to hear but the bottom line is, quite literally, profit.

NA schools are what I like to refer to as the distant cousins of their RA counterparts.  There is no comparison in terms of quality and recognition of credits and degrees.  In fact, most RA schools will not accept transfer credit or degrees from NA schools.  That decision pretty much says it all.

The company I work for, Capstone Vietnam, is probably the only educational consulting company in Vietnam that works exclusively with RA schools in the US.  (If you know of another, dear reader, let me know and I’ll post the comment and proof here.)  Why?  It’s simple – quality matters.

So does truth in advertising.  Bait-and-switch is yet another example of fraud perpetrated on attendees and other institutions.


“Institute Accused of Falsely Reporting How It Spent State Dept. Funds Settles Lawsuit for $1-Million”

Now that’s a headline you don’t see very often in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the weekly bible of the US higher education community.  This is not just any run-of-the-mill institute but the Institute of International Education (IIE), one of “the world’s largest and most experienced international education and training organizations,” according to its website.   

This 16 April 2012 story, which IIE successfully managed to keep out of the media until an enterprising CHE reporter caught wind of it, is about fraud and mismanagement.  The Institute, which receives 66% of its funding from US government sources, including the State Department (i.e., think Fulbright), guards its reputation in pitbull fashion, lest it run the risk of losing part a piece of the US government fiscal pie on which it relies so heavily and/or alienating its donors.

The whistleblower was punished, while one of her superiors, who did nothing, ends up working in the president’s office, as one reader pointed out.  I’m afraid that my former employer behaved very badly in this case.  Kudos to my former colleague, Rachel Goldberg, one of the plaintiffs, along with “United States,” for her courage in pursing this matter at great cost to herself. 

Why do I include this in An International Educator in Vietnam?  Because it involved the Vietnam Student Fulbright Program, among other reasons.  Specifically, three of the “Defendant’s False Claims Schemes” (VII.) in the AMENDED COMPLAINT AND DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL (PDF) were as follows: 

16.  In connection with IIE’s contract or contracts with the Department of State, IIE submitted to the Department of State, and Goldberg was asked in effect to prepare quota sheets purportedly containing dollar items of direct costs, i.e., tuition and fees, to fund students’ grants, when in fact these items improperly included amounts that IIE used for “supplemental benefits” (e.g., books and computers) that were not provided for as direct costs.

17.  The quota sheets were submitted to the Department of State in connection with initial requests for funds and as periodic budget reports.  At all relevant times, the quota sheets were submitted annually and the government funds were transmitted to IIE on a quarterly basis.

18.  IIE’s contract with the Department of State for the Vietnam foreign student program did not allow for supplemental benefits to be included in direct costs. 

Disclosure:  I served as IIE-Vietnam country director from 2005-09. 


By Ian Wilhelm

The Institute of International Education has paid $1-million to the U.S. government to settle a lawsuit that accused the nonprofit organization of falsely reporting how it spent State Department funds over eight years. The investigation involved a whistle-blower within the institute, who said she first raised concerns about financial procedures to her superiors and had received unfair treatment as a result.
The lawsuit was filed by Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, and was settled in June 2011. The settlement went largely unnoticed at the time but began circulating among international educators last week. While alleging violations of the False Claims Act, the suit does not accuse institute staff members of pocketing federal dollars for personal gain but instead paints a portrait of improper accounting practices that allowed the institute to squeeze every dollar from the grants it received.
The complaint says the organization inaccurately reported labor costs while managing various international scholarships under the State Department’s Fulbright Program. Instead of keeping records on how much time employees actually spent working on Fulbright grants, the complaint says the institute told its employees to fraudulently charge their time based on predetermined percentages. It also says the organization shifted funds between grant programs so it could use up all available money. (The government required that leftover funds be returned.)
“Over an eight-year period, the program’s administrator did not comply with grant requirements and repeatedly made false claims for payment,” Mr. Bharara said in a statement shortly after the settlement was reached. According to his office, the institute did not change its practices until it discovered it was under investigation in 2008.
The institute is a major player in international education, organizing educational training programs for universities, overseeing scholarship programs, and providing emergency funds to help scholars in dangerous parts of the world. According to its 2011 annual report, it had 600 staff members in 17 offices worldwide and a budget of $326-million, 66 percent of which came from the federal government.
The institute released a brief statement Friday in response to an interview request by The Chronicle.
“We worked closely with the Justice Department to understand and address the time-recording practices in question—and we have implemented effective remedial measures to prevent recurrence,” the statement said. The institute also said independent accountants had reported that the value of the actual work it performed exceeded what the government paid, and that the government has confirmed that the nonprofit remains fully qualified to continue receiving federal grants.
The State Department declined to comment.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint first filed in 2007 by Rachel Goldberg, an employee of the nonprofit international-education institute at the time. Ms. Goldberg, who was part of the foreign-students division, says she complained to her supervisor and others in 2003 that the institute was improperly including so-called supplemental benefits, which include books and computers, in accounting for funds meant to pay for Fulbright students’ tuition and fees. In addition, the complaint says the institute used funds meant for seminars and enrichment grants for supplementary benefits instead.
Saying her protests were rebuffed, Ms. Goldberg sent an e-mail message to the State Department about the problems. As a result, the agency stopped providing funds for supplemental benefits.
Mary E. Kirk, who at the time was the institute’s vice president for student exchanges, told Ms. Goldberg “that she should not have sent the e-mail and should have left the matter to her superiors at IIE,” according to the complaint. What’s more, Ms. Goldberg said she had “been ostracized, her staff had been reduced, and she has incurred unwarranted negative performance evaluations.”
As part of the settlement and as a reward for her exposing the accounting practices, the government gave Ms. Goldberg $170,000, which was taken out of the $1-million paid to the government by the institute.
According to her lawyer, Timothy J. McInnis, she no longer works for the institute. Ms. Kirk is now senior counselor for academic exchanges in the office of the president. Aside from the statement about the settlement, the institute declined to comment further on the complaints against it.