“The Dregs of Higher Education Damage Our Immigration System”

dregs2

This organization, whose slogan is Low-immigration, Pro-immigrant, is not one whose work I would normally cite but this is a well-researched report.  It is about an important issue I have been writing for quite some time now, a lone voice in the US higher education accreditation wilderness, so to speak.  There is more than one loophole, by the way.  The bottom line, both figuratively and literally, is that these institutions are gaming the system.  Sometimes, the “free market” is too free.  

The accreditor mentioned, ACICS, was derecognized by the US Department of Education in the waning days of the Obama Administration.  While I hoped for the best, i.e., that ACICS would go the way of the dinosaur, thereby resulting in the loss of institutional accreditation for all of its accredited institutions, I also had the nagging feeling that this ruling would appear on someone’s radar in the Trump Administration.  Why?  Because there’s so much money at $take.

This is an account of how, because of a loophole in the immigration law, dozens of U.S.-based, fourth-rate purveyors of higher education have had multiple negative impacts on the United States while raking in multi-millions of dollars. In the course of this they have:

  • Provided F-1 visas and work permits to tens of thousands of foreign “students”, many of whom are really illegal aliens in disguise;
  • Supplied nominal educational services, if any, to those aliens;
  • Charged those students substantial to outrageous fees;
  • Misled their students on the state of the entities’ academic accreditations;
  • Engaged in a variety of shady financial practices; and, in some cases
  • Used their status as “universities” to hire a suspiciously large numbers of aliens through the H-1B program, including, for example, English professors from Turkey;
  • Provided suspiciously large numbers of multiple-year OPT work permissions to their lightly educated alien alumni; and, in two or three cases,
  • Used their status as IRS-recognized charities to avoid substantial state and federal taxes.

Another problem is most regionally accredited (RA) institutions do not accept credits or credentials (degrees) from nationally accredited schools, for obvious reasons.  (RA is considered to be the gold standard of institutional accreditation.)  This is a fact that many NA schools do not share with prospective students.  

Follow this link to read the report in its entirety.

Peace, MAA

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US Department of Education “Derecognition” of ACICS, & EducationUSA

edusa logoAs I’ve written before and as some of you may know, EducationUSA, a US Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centers in more than 170 countries,works with both regionally and nationally accredited US institutions of higher education. 

Among the latter are hundreds of institutions, mostly for-profit career schools, that are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).  ACICS was derecognized by the US Department of Education in late 2016 after a series of investigative reports about a couple of its accredited schools.  This decision has stood in the new administration, much to my surprise, especially given the fact that Betsy “Amway” DeVos is the US secretary of education. 

VIU logoOne example of an ACICS-accredited institution that I’ve seen on the EducationUSA website and Facebook page is Virginia International University (VIU), located in Fairfax, VA, outside of Washington, D.C.  Like all other ACICS-accredited schools, VIU now has about five (5) more months to obtain another institutional accreditation.  This means that if it doesn’t and you’re a VIU student who is not expected to graduate until after that date, your alma mater could very well end up being unaccredited, the higher education equivalent of a company’s stock hitting rock bottom. 

Accreditation is an official stamp of approval that enables higher education institutions recruit international students but even without it they can retain their SEVP-approved status and still issue I-20s.  More about that disgrace in another post.

 Upmarket Visa Mill

us higher ed export

In case you missed this BuzzFeed investigative report, one of several, about Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) in Fremont, CA, one of the worst ACICS-accredited schools, here are some excerpts.  (While NPU is a nonprofit, it is a money-making machine for the Chinese-American family that owns it, as you can see in this report.)  Italics are mine. 

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.

“Immediate Action”

This is an issue I have been writing and speaking about for years, a lone voice in the US higher education accreditation wilderness.  After a series of articles was published and the proverbial shit hit the fan,  so to speak, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) demanded “immediate action.”  This is the power of the press to effective positive change.  These results are few and far between so be sure to savor them.

The rest, as they say, is history.  ACICS was derecognized (love that word!) by the US Dept of Education for falling asleep at the wheel or not minding the store – pick your favorite idiom.  The bottom line is that ACICS-accredited schools will be unaccredited by June 2018, unless they get another form of accreditation, which is unlikely for many. 

 Stay tuned for more intrigue! 
 
MAA

“Homeland Security Wants To Shut Down South Bay University”

Kudos to the DHS!  This is what the US government should be doing, instead of creating faux universities (exhibit A:  University of Northern New Jersey) and entrapping people.  They have plenty of work on their hands with existing institutions, including those that are “officially accredited” (read nationally accredited) and unaccredited but authorized to issue I-20s.

cheating next exitCalifornia South Bay University (CSBU) is one rogue provider that knows the value of regional accreditation as the gold standard of institutional accreditation in the US.  Perhaps it’s a long-term goal or a dream but it’s certainly not yet a reality.  It added it to its website, even though it’s a bald-faced lie.  Go to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database and do a search for CSBU.  Let me know what you find out.  This is the result I got:

Search Results: 0 institutions found for ‘california south bay university’
Please use alternative search criteria.

MAA

california-south-bay-university

Choosing Clients & Partners is a Two-Way Street: Quality Matters

Money is how companies with no ethical compass measure success.2-way-street

The company I work for, Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company founded in 2009, with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), works exclusively with regionally accredited (RA) institutions of higher education in the US.  As far as I know, it’s the only company in Viet Nam, and indeed the world, that has this policy. (If you know of another, let me know!  A prize to the first person whose answer I’m able to confirm.)

Why?  Because quality and integrity are more important than money.  Since regional accreditation is the gold standard of institutional accreditation in the US, students and parents can be assured that minimum standards of quality have been met and maintained.  US higher education fair attendees can be assured that there are no “bad apples” in the ballroom.  US higher education colleagues who choose to work with the company can be assured of honor by association. Capstone has politely declined to work with quite a few schools because the company you keep and the standards you uphold take precedence over cash flow.

Nationally accredited (NA) institutions, while “officially accredited,” are not in the same academic league as their RA cousins.  In fact, in terms of quality and ethics, some of them comprise a veritable rogue’s gallery of schools, including those that are essentially visa mills.  Moreover, the majority of these schools do not inform students and parents that most RA institutions will not accept credits and credentials transferred from NA schools.  Why is that, I wonder?

gold-standardFor most educational consulting companies, it’s all about “showing me the money”, which means they’ll work with anyone who can afford to pay them, including rogue providers (unaccredited schools), in some cases.  Money is how companies with no ethical compass measure success.  For Capstone, it’s about quality first, which I find refreshing in the often murky and foul world of educational consulting.

MAA

“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.

MAA

“These Obscure Colleges Sign Up Thousands Of Foreign Students With Little Oversight”

Both Northwestern Polytechnic and Silicon Valley University are accredited, a distinction that allows colleges with many foreign students to avoid the most stringent oversight. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s student visa program depends on the accreditation system: it requires less documentation from accredited schools that want authorization to admit foreign students than it asks of unaccredited schools.

npu

Not All Types of Accreditation Are Created Equal

This is ironic because accredited institutions are supposed to be held to a higher standard.  Of course, there are different levels of accreditation and different types of accreditors.  National accreditation (NA), the category into which both NPU and SVU fall, is not to be confused with regional accreditation (RA), considered to be the gold standard.  NA is much easier and much less expensive to obtain.  While most NA entities are for-profit online and career schools, quite a few are nonprofits, which gives them more legitimacy, in the eyes of many.

Once an institution receives accreditation and it obtains SEVP Certification, which gives it the authority to issue I-20s, it can pretty much run on autopilot until a scandal of some sort surfaces in the media.  The article on which this post is based is Exhibit A.

Truth in Advertising?

Another point, which I’ve mentioned on many occasions, is the fact that most RA schools do not accept credits or credentials from NA schools, for obvious reasons.  This means if a NPU or SVU students want to transfer, they must start over again, in most cases.  This is also an issue that the US government – through EducationUSA – must address sooner rather than later, since EdUSA represents all “officially accredited” US colleges and universities.

$how Me The Money! 

Here’s one of the money paragraphs in the article, pun intended.

Thanks to its huge surge in enrollment, NPU took in $40 million in 2014, and spent $12 million — leaving it with a $28 million surplus…

Hmm, let’s see.  Revenue of $40 million with $12 million in expenses and a $28 million surplus translates into a 70% profit margin.   Nonprofits are also tax-exempt, if I’m not mistaken, which means that’s $28 mill tax-free.   Not too shabby.  In addition, the value of NPU’s assets jumped from $46.53 million to $75.32 million in 2014.  Also not too shabby.  In fact, that’s one hell of a business model.

Speaking of tax-exempt, NPU might want to find someone to proofread their 990 form.  Here are some excerpts from the 2014 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax:

Summary:  TO PROVIDE AN ADVANCE EDUCATION AND A HIGH TECHNOLOGY LEARNING ENVILROMENT THAT MOTIVATS STUDENTS TO PURSUE …

Organization’s Mission:  …NPU SEEKS TO PREPARE ITS STUDENTS TO BEGIN AND ENHANCE THEIR PROFESSIONAL CAREERS IN COMPUTERS, ENGINEERING, AND BUSINESS THROUGH STUDY IN BOTH UNDERGADUATE AND GARADUATE CURRICULA.

Ouch!

Who’s Minding the Store?

From a colleague who shares my concerns about this issue:

  1. What are the odds students are told up front about the RA vs NA distinction?
  2. What are the odds students are being introduced to quality options?

These are rhetorical questions.  You know the answers, sadly.

Where are the referrals coming from?  You know where.  From education agents whose primary, or exclusive, concern is money and how much they can make – pronto.  These are what one colleague referred to as “bottom feeding agents.”  Students who attend these types of universities generally fall into two categories:  1)  those who think it’s something that it’s not because an agent sells them a bill of goods (they show up, discover the deception and look for quality transfer opportunities); and 2) those whom a well-known colleague aka accreditation expert calls “willing co-conspirators,” who – with a wink and a nod – go, pay 20k a year (tuition/fees only) and wait for the chance to work and eventually emigrate. The latter know the score.

As one colleague put it, “It’s a great illustration of how lax oversight by the US government perpetuates agent misconduct and gives professionals of all stripes a bad name in the process. ”

Easy as Pie

These schools know which hoops to jump through & which buttons to push (we’re legal, we’re accredited, we’re American!).  Meanwhile, too many student visa applications are being denied because the interviewing consular officers think or feel that the young people standing on the other side of the window, most of whom have letters of admission and I-20s from RA institutions, might be trying to use the F1 to emigrate.

In addition to the article, check out both university websites and form your own opinion.  Note that the new president of NPU is the son of the former and first president.  That’s called keeping it in the family.  In 2014, President George Hsieh earned $299,792 and his son, Peter, then Executive Vice President and Officer, earned $257,292.

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.  A Vietnamese translation is forthcoming.  And the truth will set you free.  Stay tuned!

Finally, kudos to BuzzFeed reporters, Molly Hensley-Clancy and Brendan Klinkenberg!  I should probably create a series entitled Set Thine House in Order, which I kicked off with a recent post about mass shootings and study in the USA.

MAA

Bonus:  Here’s a 23 December 2015 article from The Times of India entitled ‘University of Manavallu’: In Silicon Valley, a dodgy Chinese-Telugu alliance.
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The End of An Era: Life Without the IIE Higher Education Fairs

iie-logoThere was a time when IIE higher education fairs were all the rage in Vietnam, when IIE and its EducationUSA advising centers were one of the few quality games in town.  You announced the fairs, did some light publicity and, Lord, did they ever come…  in droves.  There was such an unquenchable thirst for information about StudyUSA yet not many reliable sources of information back in the day. (Speaking of quality, IIE only permitted regionally accredited institution to join its fairs although some nationally accredited schools have managed to get in in recent years, probably the result of staff oversight.)

I remember in the fall of 2008 when the HCMC fair had over 90 US colleges and universities and a couple thousand attendees in the course of a day.  It was crazy, lots of pushing, shoving, grabbing and not very many meaningful conversations and exchanges of information.  Success was measured by volume and by that measure the events were a huge success.  These fairs were also immensely profitable, thus contributing to IIE’s bottom line.

A year later, a relatively new political appointee in the US State Department, a bean-counter, decided that the US government could save money by moving EducationUSA back to the US Mission (i.e,. the Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate General in HCMC).  Kill two birds with one stone.  Save money and control the message more closely using a “back to basics” approach.  What’s not to like from a bureaucratic perspective?

The post-EducationUSA IIE continued to offer its regional US higher education fairs, including in Vietnam.  They remained an important source of income for an organization that was striving mightily to diversify its revenue base.  At one time, IIE received 2/3 of its budget from the US government (USG), mainly from the State Department for the Fulbright program.    While it was 36% in 2014, the USG is still a valued client, both financially and politically.  So when IIE decided to suspend or discontinue its regional higher education fairs some colleagues asked me why.

IIE Higher Education Fairs

Here are two likely reasons.  Choose one or both.

  1.  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you/customer is king or queen.  EducationUSA began organizing its own US higher education fairs in Vietnam and elsewhere in the region.  As a courtesy to State, IIE decided to bow out so as not to compete with one of its most important clients.
  2. The IIE fairs were becoming less relevant and less well-attended.  In a sense, IIE was living in the past, doing pretty much the same thing year after year while the market was changing and becoming much more competitive.  It reminds me of this saying, which I read in a recent IT article:  If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

Full disclosure:  I served as country director of the Institute of International Education-Vietnam from 2005-09.  During that time, IIE offered EducationUSA advising services on behalf of the US State DepartmentThe HCMC EducationUSA advising staff were seconded to the Public Affairs Section of the US Consulate General.  I could never figure that one out.  State paid IIE for staff who worked out of a US government facility.  Go figure!  🙂

MAA