Tag Archives: accreditation

Detecting Fraudulent Academic Credentials

June 18th, 2015


Ensuring the authenticity of educational credentials is by far the single most important step in credential evaluation and international student admissions. Without due diligence in fraud detection, we may run the risk of evaluating documents that may have been falsified, or fraudulently procured and admitting the students into our institutions based on unauthentic credentials. As professionals involved in international credential evaluation and admissions, we must remain vigilant and adopt best practices that protect us and the community from fraud.

In this blog post, we offer some tips to consider when evaluating international academic credentials.

What is an authentic academic credential?
The definition adopted by the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers is as follows:

An official transcript is one that has been received directly from the issuing institution. It must bear the college seal, date, and an appropriate signature. Transcripts received that do not meet these requirements should not be considered official and should be routinely verified for validity and accuracy before proceeding with the evaluation and admissions consideration.

The 5 Most Common Types of Non-Official and Illegitimate Documents

1. Forged or altered documents – Official, legitimate document that have been altered in some way (usually by omissions, addition, or changes)

2. Inside jobs – these are special cases because the documents are actually produced by institutional employees, usually for a fee; inside jobs are virtually impossible to detect upon initial review.

3. Fabricated (counterfeit) documents – documents fabricated to represent official documents from real or non-existent institutions (including use of letterheads)

4. Degree or Diploma Mill Products – The products of degree/diploma mills are not in themselves fabrications but the academic study they purport to represent certainly is.

5. Creative translations – “Translations” of foreign-language documents that are not just inaccurate but systematically misleading, tantamount to fabrication.

Watch for the Red Flags!


Checklist of Clues:

• The application is unusually late, assuming that it would impede verification, or is accompanied by a long letter from an impressive office – usually located in the U.S. – which may be attempting to lend an aura of officialdom to otherwise unacceptable documents. Do not be pressured or rushed into completing the evaluation or reaching an admissions

• Discrepancies/inconsistencies noted in the application for evaluation;

• Evidence of corrected personal data (birth date, gender);

• Document is tampered and has evidence of white-out, burn-marks, erasures, corrections;

• Credentials do not display misspelling, wrong course titles for the time period, smudges, white-outs, or erasures;

• Fonts, text layout, and symmetry of documents are correct for that institution’s credentials.

• Interrupted/obliterated lines where information is generally typed or printed;

• Missing pictures on diplomas or professional identification cards;
• Partial seals on the surface of superimposed pictures not on the document surface;

• Institutional logos are clean and correct for the time period.

• Signatures of institutional authorities do not look forced, unsteadied, nor copied and pasted.

• The type is inconsistent throughout the document because subjects have been added or grades changed. In some cases, crude alterations have been made in longhand, or lines may have been typed in at a slight angle to the computer generated originals;

• Irregular spacing between words or letters, or insufficient space for the text;

• Questionable paper quality, texture, size (regular or legal), weight coloration;

• Ink color and quality;

• Inappropriate or outdated signatures;

• Incorrect seals/emblems, colors, shapes;

• Excessive seals and stamps attempting to help the document appear official;

• Does the document security features, such a embossed seals, foil printing, raised text, or holograms that should be the official document of that country?

• Does the document include a stamp “not to be released to student’ or “confidential,” yet it is provided by the student?

• Applicant claims to have lost the original documents;

• Applicant claims to have graduated from an institution but can provide only a letter indicating completion of program;

• Although the applicant had taken external examinations, the certificates have been lost and all he/she has left is a statement of attendance or graduation from the school;

• You know the education system to be different from US system, yet the transcript appears to be very American, giving, subjects, grades and credit hours in US terms;

• Grade certificates prepared in a language other than the official language of the country where the document originated. Many countries are currently using official transcripts in English: Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Canada (except Quebec), Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and India.

• Names may have been substituted. Typically, a person will type his/her name on a sheet of paper, cut it out and paste it across a copy of an original, which he/she then photocopies; the substitution of names will rarely appear on an original;

• Grades listed may be absurdly high, or the number of course hours claimed to have been carried per semester an improbably load;

• Numerical aberrations: credits do not add up and the overall grade point averages are a mathematical impossibility;

• Is the educational terminology correct for the country concerned?

• Use of unprofessional language on academic documents, poor grammar, misspellings;

• Are there any dates or signatures on the documents?

Our advancement in technology is both a blessing and a curse. With sophisticated computers and printers at their disposal, counterfeiters today produce flawlessly perfect documents that for the uninitiated make it difficult to detect fraud. We hope that the tips shared in this blog and your institution’s enforcement to have in place strict standards for the submission and receipt of academic documents help thwart it not eliminate fraud.

Who ever said international credential evaluation is dull doesn’t know and appreciate what we do. Stay vigilant and happy sleuthing!

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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13 Facts about the Bologna Process

May 14th, 2015

The 2015 Ministerial Conference and Fourth Bologna Policy Forum recently took place in Yerevan, Armenia, on May 14 and 15, 2015. Here are some facts about the Bologna Process that highlight the progress it has made to date and problems and challenges to overcome.

Bologna Process Defined

1. The Bologna Process is named after the Bologna Declaration, which was signed in Bologna, Italy on June 19, 1999 by ministers in charge of higher education from 29 European cities.

2. The Bologna Process is a European reform process aiming at establishing a European Higher Education Area by 2010

3. Today, the Bologna Process unites 47 countries which are all part to the European Cultural Convention.

4. The Bologna Process also involved European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO-CEPES, as well as representatives of higher education institutions, staff, students, and employers and several organizations involved in quality assurance. For a list of countries and organizations participating in the Bologna Process, please click on this link: http://bit.ly/1IDtH0q

5. The main mission of the Bologna process is to facilitate student mobility and academic exchange amongst participating countries by offering comparable degrees organized in the bachelor, master and doctorate model of higher education.

6. The European credit transfer and accumulation system, known as ECTS, is part of the Bologna process of the three-cycle degree structure in its effort to make mobility and recognition of studies easier.

Challenges and Problems

7. Disparities exist both within and between countries and regions that have adopted the Bologna Process. Not all countries are moving in the same direction at the same pace.

8. The three degree model is not always used in a coherent way, especially in fields such as medicine, teacher training or law.

9. There is a lack of consistency in how ECTS credits are used especially in master’s degree programs where designating credits for student-centered learning remains unclear.

10. Students continue to face problems of having their degrees recognized by other countries that have adopted the Bologna process. According to Tibor Navaracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, “…by 2020, 20% of students will be mobile during their studies. Problems of recognition of foreign degrees persist: students (almost one in 10, according to one Bologna report) find they cannot continue their studies from bachelor degree in one country to masters in another, despite the – on paper, at least – comparable degree structure throughout the European Higher Education Area.”

11. The degrees appear to not be providing graduates the skills needed to prepare them for future careers.

12. Higher education in some of the countries is still not easily accessible for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

13. Not all countries have embraced digital technologies and their potential in transforming learning and teaching techniques.

Given the significant progress made and the problems observed, it would be interesting to see how the recent Ministerial Conference in Yerevan plans to resolve these challenges. What goals and reforms will be decided on to help give the Bologna Process the boost it needs to move forward and remedy the shortcomings witnessed in the past 20 years?

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Dispatches from the NAFSA Region I & XII Conference, Portland, OR

November 10th, 2014


There’s nothing more challenging to me than waking to the sound of an alarm at 4:30 AM to catch a 6:40 AM flight. At least the flight from LAX to Portland, OR was short and except for having an infamous celebrity, Kanye West, on board as our travel companion, uneventful.

Our Assistant Director, Yolinisse Moreno and I arrived in Portland to overcast skies and cool weather. Clouds were threatening rain which for us drought-stricken Californians would have been a welcome reception, but there was no deluge or even a droplet, even here in Portland as we explored the Pearl District.




With our booth set up in the Exhibit Hall, Yolinisse and I managed to hop on the tram from the Waterfront to drop in at the famous Powell’s Books, one of the few remaining in the country, and scratched the surface of this prolific bookstore bursting with hundreds of thousands of books stacked and showcased in the endless rows that lined each floor of this historic store. We also enjoyed a couple of Portland’s eateries, like The Garden Bar Salad Co., a wonderful farm-to-table restaurant specializing in salads, and the Cacao Drink Chocolate, a gourmet chocolatier where we each sipped delicious cups of dark hot chocolates. On our tram ride back to our hotel, we enjoyed a quick tour of the campus of Portland State University resplendent in the gorgeous colors of the season.


The opening day at the conference brought a number of conference attendees to the exhibit hall and to our booth. It is always wonderful seeing colleagues from the colleges and universities to whom we provide assistance with evaluations of international academic credentials. The conference sessions covering relevant and hot topics on recruitment strategies, credential evaluation, regulations on student visa policies and exchange programs ensured that all interest groups needs were equally met. Some meeting rooms were full beyond capacity and attendees with standing room only.


We didn’t get the opportunity to visit Portland’s famous donut shop, “Voodoo,” but to everyone’s delight the sugary treats made a grand appearance at the exhibit hall in time for the afternoon coffee break.

And, since we’re in the State of Oregon, its worthy noting that seven public universities make up the Oregon University System, and seventeen community colleges are operated by locally elected boards. There are also numerous private degree-granting institutions.
The oldest college in Oregon is Willamette University, which was established 1842, and is the oldest university in the Western United States. The oldest community college is Southwestern Oregon Community College which was established in 1959.

We had a number of people who participated in our drawings and the winner of our Kindle Fire was Melissa Lyons, from Golden West College in Huntington Beach, CA. We wrapped up the conference by attending the private dinner hosted by our gracious and generous host, Sharif Ossayran, President of Asencion where we dined on a delicious three-course meal at the Andino, a Nuovo-Peruvian restaurant and reconnected with friends from Santa Barbara City College, Ventura County Community College, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Azusa Pacific University.

The number of attendees which reached a record breaking 869 for a regional conference with 70 exhibitors is indicative of an economy that is recovering and the growing desire to expand U.S. higher education’s international appeal. We thank the NAFSA Region I & XII Conference Committee Team, an entirely volunteer effort, in helping organize yet another successful and memorable trip. We look forward to attending NAFSA Region XII’s conference next year in Hawaii. Aloha!

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI



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Helping Students from Conflict Zones Part I – Credentials Evaluation

October 2nd, 2014

Photo credit: http://www.dnaindia.com

The devastating impact on education brought on by conflict, civil wars, foreign invasions and occupations, and environmental disasters is huge. Each and everyday we hear and read news reports on conflict regions around the world. Displacement of people, the disintegration of infrastructure, destruction of education structures, breakdown of school systems through absence of teachers and unsafe environments for teaching and learning are all direct results of such calamities.

Education that may have been accessible to both sexes and peoples of different religious beliefs, and races prior to the period of conflict may suddenly be permanently disrupted and perhaps even limited by sex, race and religion. Where once women of all ages may have had access to education, that opportunity may be taken away from them during the times of conflict and war.

Civil unrest, wars and environmental disasters lead to displacement of people from their homelands fleeing to safer friendlier (or at times, not so welcoming) neighboring countries giving rise to refugee camps; the numbers of which continue to multiply each day as a new region becomes afflicted with conflict. At times makeshift schools with the help of NGO’s, religious charities and UNICEF are set up in refugee camps offering the displaced children some semblance of normalcy. The Zaatari camp in Jordan is the now the 2nd largest refugee camp in the world with a population approaching 150,000.

Photo credit: WISE – A makeshift school by UNICEF in Zaatari, a
Syrian Refugee camp in Jordan

Some families manage to make their way out of the camps and to countries that allow them entry to settle as political refugees. In most cases, many have fled their homes with little or no belongings, much less their academic transcripts and diplomas. Then there are those who amidst the chaos and conflict choose to remain, unable to leave, trapped in a situation which they cannot control and forced to adjust to the ‘new normal’ as best as they can, given the difficult challenges that have disrupted their lives.

Photo credit: AFP – A Palestinian boy in a shrapnel riddled
school in the Gaza Strip

Photo Credit:Wikipedia – Rocket fired from Gaza hits a
kindergarten classroom in Beer Sheva, Southern Israeli.

How do the international admissions and credential evaluation professionals, assist those who have fled unimaginable circumstances and arrived with the proverbial shirts on their backs? Think Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Palestine, Sudan. One thing to be sure is that these individuals did not arrive in our country with the intention of studying as international students. They are not afforded that luxury which means the regular requirements we have in place whether for admission or evaluation do not apply. They may have financial issues, lack adequate documents that may have been damaged or partially completed because of the conflict, are unable to request their schools or universities to issue official transcripts to be sent elsewhere, or have fraudulent documents, and may even suffer psychologically and physically from the trauma brought on by their experiences.

Academic Credentials
Collect all documents the individual is able to provide; these could be partial transcripts, a certificate or diploma, report cards. If they have the originals, request to have them submitted with the promise they will be returned once reviewed.

Academic History
Request they provide a detailed chronology of their education beginning with their elementary school, with names, address, dates of attendance and any diplomas/certificates they received

Verification of Dates
Check the dates on their educational chronology against documented information you have on file about the country or region in question to see if they corroborate.

Contact In-country Sources
If there is a U.S. Embassy in the country from which your applicant has fled, reach out to the OSEAS Offices or REACs for assistance with verification.

Given the precarious nature of documents from conflict zones, we must exercise due diligence in vetting the information provided and do the best we can. After all, we may never know if the recently arrived refugee on our shores will be the next Albert Einstein or Madeleine Albright. For a list of famous (and not so-famous) refugees making a difference, click on this link:
Famous (and Not-So-Famous) Refugees Making a Difference

Please share your tips and experiences you have had with helping refugee students.

[In Part II of this blog I will offer tips to international admissions officers at U.S. schools and colleges in ways they can help students from conflict zones.]

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI



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Dispatches from the 2013 CCID Conference in Atlanta, GA

February 28, 2013


Though I’d been to Atlanta before on business, this was my first time attending the CCID (Community Colleges for International Development) https://programs.ccid.cc/cci/ Conference. The Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead (known as the Beverly Hills of the South) served as the venue for the conference. After the hubbub of the French Quarter in New Orleans, where the AIEA conference was held, arriving to the serenity of Buckhead was a much needed relief. And, as much as I intended to make it to the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum, except to a visit to the Office Depot (2 miles from the hotel) for the printing of handouts, a slice of pizza at a pizzeria nearby and a celebratory dinner at Kyma, a Greek Restaurant in Buckhead, majority of my time was committed to meetings.

At the invitation of Zepur Solakian, Executive Director of CGACC http://www.cgacc.org , I served on a pre-conference workshop panel (chaired by Ms. Solakian) on how community colleges can optimize their recruitment strategy by elevating the global branding of their college through 2+2 university pathways and partnerships. The other presenters serving on the panel included: Ross Jennings, Vice President of International Programs and Extended Learning at Green River Community College (WA) http://www.greenriver.edu/ , Dr. Jing Luan, Vice Chancellor, Educational Services and Planning at San Mateo Community College District (CA) http://www.smccd.edu/accounts/smccd/ , and Vilma Tafawa, Executive Director of the International Center at Bunker Hill Community College (MA) http://www.bhcc.mass.edu/ .

The 2+2 model, though not a new concept, can be a popular choice for international students whereby they can take their general requirements at a community college and then transfer to a four-year university to complete their bachelor’s degree. As the global middle class continues to grow so is the global demand for International Higher Education. It is projected that student mobility will grow 70% by the year 2025. However, as more countries enter into the global arena to recruit students, the U.S. is losing its global market shares due to the perception of high education costs, and the budget cuts effecting all institutions of higher education as well as issues concerning the issuance student of visas.

The workshop set out to determine how U.S. community colleges were doing and what they can do to remain globally competitive? While each presenter discussed the steps their respective community colleges have taken to optimize their recruiting strategy they unanimously agreed that success lies in enhancing, articulating and marketing of 2+2 jointly by four-year institutions and community colleges. The 2+2 process provides huge savings to students and all institutions of higher education. As the global middle class grows the 2+2 can bring affordability of a U.S. degree to these families who would have otherwise looked at other countries. Panelists discussed existing articulation agreements, joint marketing strategies and success models giving credibility to 2+2 globally and eliminate myths about 2+2.

But no amount of recruiting to attract international students is effective if their academic documents have not been properly vetted and evaluated. I spoke of the reasons why accurate credentials evaluations are important for international admissions. Accurate academic credential evaluations allow the admissions decision makers to properly assess and integrate the international students into their scholastic environment while ensuring due diligence in international admissions has been satisfied.

The benefits of the credential evaluation to institutions are twofold: 1) they are protected against credential fraud and misrepresentation and 2) enhance their global competitiveness while nurturing development of international partnerships. Students also benefit by receiving a clear understanding of their academic achievements and enjoying an obstacle-free pathway to further education, professional development and employment opportunities in the future.

Finally, Zepur shared with the audience the initiatives which CGACC has undertaken in its efforts to make the U.S. community colleges and the 2+2 model an attractive and cost effective feature to international students. The CGACC ‘s global initiatives include:

2+2 Guide (New)
2+2 Workshop around the world
2+2 Educational Tours
2+2 Pavilions at Fairs
2+2 Partnerships
2+2 Videos
2+2 Examples with Testimonials

CGACC will continue with its efforts to meet with universities at NAFSA and regional conferences to establish strategic MOUs and continue blogging on the 2+2 model. Through its global partnerships with ACEI and other select organizations, CGACC aims to provide its member institutions the tools needed to optimize their recruitment strategies by enhancing their position in the global education market.

Stay tuned for dispatches from my upcoming trip to Hong Kong next month where I’ll be attending the APIEA http://www.apaie.org/ Conference and presenting on a panel addressing the 2+2 program alongside partnerships and collaborations with EducationUSA https://www.educationusa.info/ , higher education communities in the U.S. and the East Asia Pacific.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI

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Strange Bedfellows: Questionable Alliances in Higher Education

March 29, 2012

University of New York Tirana

Tell me something, why do perfectly fine and accredited universities align themselves with shady start-ups in far-flung corners of the world? I ask this question because a week ago I came across an article in the NYT An Albanian College Relying on U.S. Cachet that speaks of exactly this very issue. Just the opening paragraph introducing this Albanian College as situated in a “dingy backstreet” in the Tirana, the Albanian Capital, is enough to give you the creeps. Yet, there it is: The University of New York, Tirana boasting an “arrangement with Empire State College, a division of the State University of New York system that is based in Saratoga Springs and is devoted to adult education and non-traditional learning.” Mind you, these “arrangements” are not unique to our accredited U.S.- based institutions. We are not alone; our counterparts in Britain and Australia are just as busy setting up “arrangements” with private education providers in the developing world.

An alumnus of the University of NY, Tirana, now attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, complained that the courses he had taken were on a par with high school level subjects offered at an American high school. And that says a lot! It’s not about the content of courses and teaching staff, it’s the fact that a degree from an institution with an American-sounding name carries a great deal of cachet in a place such as Albania.

These so-called “arrangements” got a once-prominent academic institution, the University of Wales (founded in 1893), into hot water, so hot that it lost its accreditation in 2011 and was completely abolished. Thanks to an investigation by the BBC (nice to see journalism doing what it is meant to do–but I digress) which discovered that the University’s validation of programs offered by Fazley International College in Malaysia was being used to fraudulently award degrees and was even allowing students to obtain visas in order to work in the U.K.

Of course, these chummy arrangements are all about money. Students at the University of New York, Tirana pay more than $32,000 and for “an extra $100 or so per credit hour,” students taking classes in English can graduate and receive an American diploma. The same alum mentioned above says the following in the NYT article: “We didn’t even learn how to use a financial calculator. You are graduating with a degree in finance, and you don’t know how to use the calculator.” Here’s what Kevin Kinser, an expert on cross-border education at SUNY Albany is quoted as saying for the University of New York, Tirana, that the “connection with Empire State College is a way of developing legitimacy – a branding issue.” Someone’s definitely paying someone for the brand name or being associated with the brand.

I’m reminded of the saying “you are who you associate with,” and it seems it’s alive and well at our institutions of higher learning. Desperate for the almighty dollar, they are willing to give a part of themselves away, undermining their own credibility, and perhaps even contributing to their own demise. Let’s not forget what happened to the University of Wales.

The Frustrated Evaluator

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