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The never ending case of Credential Fraud and Misrepresentation

January 19th, 2017

mill

On January 5, 2017, the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA), frustrated with the continued proliferation of diploma mills and fraudulent qualifications, made a bold announcement that it will name and shame holders of these bogus degrees and diplomas.  The SAQA has established a national registry where those found guilty of having misrepresented their achievements with the use of fake degrees will be listed and said registry will be made public.

The issue of diploma mills and misrepresentation of academic documents is not new but it is a growing problem which continues to fester in countries around the world.  Here at ACEI, we realize the importance of doing our due diligence in vetting and verifying academic documents and ensuring that they are in fact issued by legitimate educational institutions to individuals who have duly earned them through actual attendance and participation in classes and coursework validated by final examinations.

From time to time, we share tips we’ve gleaned from our years of experience with academic documents and in this week’s blog we’d like to do exactly that and repost a comprehensive to-do list for you. We welcome any tips you would like to add to this list.

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!

redflag

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 and eliminate fraud.

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

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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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How To Verify Chinese Degrees

January 5th, 2017

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This was initially posted on June 23rd, 2016

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ACICS Gets Nixed

December 15th, 2016

john-king
Education Secretary John King (Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)

On December 12, 2016, John King, the U.S. Secretary of Education, announced the Education Department‘s final decision to terminate its recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).

ACICS was founded in 1912 as a national accreditor that accredited institutions offering programs in professional, technical, and occupational fields. According to InsideHigherEducation as a national accreditor, the Council “oversees 245 institutions, many of them for-profits, which enroll roughly 600,000 students and collectively received $4.76 billion in federal aid last year.”  ACICS had been the accrediting agency for now-shuttered Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute campuses.

The decision to terminate the Council’s accreditation authority follows extensive investigation by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) which concluded in its report that ACICS “failed to protect students and taxpayers from fraudulent and underperforming colleges.”  In a letter to ACICS, Emma Vadehra, chief of staff to the education secretary wrote she is terminating the department’s recognition of ACICS as a nationally recognized accrediting agency as “ACICS’s track record does not inspire confidence that it can address all of the problems effectively.” ACICS said it would “immediately file litigation seeking injunctive and other relief through the courts.”

The U.S Education Department has given the colleges accredited by ACICS 18 months to find a new accreditor or will lose access to federal aid. Many of the college are turning to other accreditation agencies, in particular the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.  The Department did announce on December 12, 2016 that it was adding new conditions for ACICS-accredited colleges to remain aid eligible that include: monitoring; transparency; oversight and accountability requirements. ACICS-accredited colleges have 10 days to agree to these new conditions or they will not be able to receive federal aid.

For more on this latest development, please visit:

https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/2016/12/acics-loss-of-accreditation-what-it-means-for-schools-and-international-students

https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/12/13/education-secretary-drops-recognition-accreditor?utm_content=buffer25e06&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=IHEbuffer

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-22/education-department-strips-authority-of-acics-the-largest-for-profit-college-accreditor

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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 Association of International Recruitment Council (AIRC), Miami, FL

December 1st, 2016

I’m here in Miami, FL, at the annual AIRC Conference. International student recruiters, credential evaluators and admissions professionals are looking at the new President-Elect’s nationalist platform with caution wondering whether the new administration will have an adverse affect on the flow of international students to the U.S. Already we are hearing that the recent Brexit vote which led to the United Kingdom exiting the European Union has deterred international students from applying to universities in England. According to the annual Open Doors report of the Institute of International Education, “the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities grew by 7.1%, to top one million in the 2015-16 academic year.” The report records 10 straight years of growth in the number of international students studying at U.S. campuses, however with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, concern of the possible negative impact on future enrollments from abroad is on everyone’s mind.

We are already hearing the chatter that international students, fearing the new administration’s hard-right, nationalist, anti-globalist and xenophobic policies are looking to countries such as Australia and Canada to continue their studies. This collective cautiousness on the part of the international students and international education professionals is mainly because we know virtually nothing about the Trump Administration’s higher education policies as he has not articulated any specific initiatives or policies during his presidential campaign or even now in the days leading to his inauguration. The new administration will most likely be more friendly toward to the for-profit higher education industry and less interested in diversity and affirmative action. In fact, there is talk about monitoring university faculty whose teachings may have a “liberal” bias.  What is inevitable is that many of the initiatives of the Obama Administration will be scrapped.

Education on the international front will most likely take a hit. The image of the United States as a “welcoming country” for international students and scholars will be tarnished and it will take a long time to rebuild and restore it. Even though, Trump has singled out his ire toward Muslims and Mexicans, the sentiment is felt by all foreigners who see themselves as being targeted by this viewpoint.

The immediate future of U.S. higher education and international students may be bleak but one factor that will keep the American higher education system in the positive light is that it is still a strong and attractive option in the global perspective. Most of the top universities are located in blue states which embrace a friendlier and more hospitable outlook toward international students and scholars.

Here at AIRC and in meeting with international recruiters from the world and the U.S., it is evident that education agents are preparing themselves by ramping up their marketing efforts to keep the international students’ interest from waning and encouraging them to study in the U.S.  Attracting international students whose impression of the U.S. as an unwelcoming country under Donald Trump will be a challenging task for international recruiters. These are unchartered waters we are entering into as we see a wave of anti-globalism, nationalism and xenophobia appearing in not just the UK, US, but also in France, Spain, Austria, Germany, and Poland. The question is how we will navigate this unwelcoming and somewhat hostile environment in order to protect the integrity of U.S. higher education as the preferred destination for international students.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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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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Life Abbreviated

10/20/16

omg

On my way to work this morning, I stopped by the German bakery nearby.

Me: Hi! (Trying my best to greet the young staff with my cheery presence.)

Server (20-something male with bleached blonde spiked hair): no response, a simple nod.

Me: Plain croissant, please.

He reaches inside the display case and from the assortment and selects a flaky croissant which he then places in a small paper bag. He hands me the bag, punches some keys on the cash register and says: “Three.”

Three? Three, what? I wondered. What did he mean? Was he asking me if I wanted three croissants? Was he talking to someone else? Party of three? Then it dawned on me. Aha! It’s the cost. He’s telling me it’s three dollars. The young man didn’t even look up and stared at the cash register. He, the product of today’s Twitter/Snapchat, ‘talk-to-the-screen-and-not-to-my- face-generation’ had pretty much cut through the chase and just like an abbreviated text message or Tweet quoted me the amount. There were no niceties or extraneous words. Straight and to the point, he’d muttered “three.” Gone were the words: “That’ll be three dollars, please.” Or, “would you like anything else?”

I reached into my wallet and handed him three single dollar bills and left feeling disconnected and somewhat forlorn. I realize it’s cliché to rant against technology and social media and how we’re hiding behind our gadgets and avoiding face-to-face communication, but there is truth to it.  Machines are doing all our talking for us as though speaking is just too much of a chore. People aren’t even uttering the words “I love you” anymore. Instead, they join their index fingers and thumbs in the shape of a heart or text an emoji of a happy face blowing heart kisses bookended by multi-colored hearts.

hands_love

But, maybe its in our nature to look at shortcuts. Technology and social media are taking care of it for us today, and even as far back as when the Pilgrims rolled in, our forefathers were looking at ways of shrinking words in the English language by cutting out letters they saw as useless. Though, for the life of me, why even have letters in words if they remain silent? For a primer on how this came about, watch this video:

You may be wondering what this rant has to do with international credential evaluations? Absolutely nothing and everything. But, those of you in the world of credential evaluations know exactly what I’m speaking of: there are many in our field who are looking for a shortcut and the quick answer to what are sometimes the gray and complicated areas of international transcripts and degree evaluations.

goaround

Churning out evaluations by the hundreds, like a sausage-making factory, oblivious of the nuances surrounding each case and the needs of the specific institution and applicant by skirting standards and ignoring good customer service is becoming more and more de rigueur. (Yes, I thought since I’m on a rant, I might as well show off my 5th grade knowledge of French). I get it, time is of essence…time is money, blah, blah, blah. Institutions and private (profit and non-profits) organizations all have a bottom line, They need to be productive and show healthy numbers and a fast or quicker way of doing it is the desired method. Except, when we do it at the expense of research, critical analysis, and veer off the path of best practices. Then we’re in trouble and trouble has a way of catching up with us, maybe not today, but soon, in the near future. Price of becoming a society of ‘short-cutters’.

Frustrated
Frustrated Evaluator

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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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Sharing a Reality (in International Education)

September 8th, 2016

minds

With the oh-so-fun election season in full swing here in the U.S., it is more difficult than usual to ignore how people can operate in such different realities. People can’t seem to agree on what is a “fact”. In many cases, this is for good reason, because so much around us has subjective meaning.

However, a shared reality does seem to exist. If it didn’t, then mathematics would be meaningless. The “fact” that 1+1=2 is true for you, for me, and for everyone connects us all, independent of our subjective realities. Fantastically, this also seems to mean that if a group of different people living in their own subjective worlds can collectively learn enough about our shared reality, they can successfully invent something that will blast off from our planet and fly to a precise place in the previously unexplored depths of space-time! And then do it again, and again!

Working in international education with credentials, I sometimes feel like I’m searching for relationships between separate “educational realities”.  Of course, credentials and educational situations are complicated issues involving a significant amount of subjective human behavior. As a result, simple arithmetic is insufficient for understanding comparative education, and we may never have credential evaluation solutions as precise as the results of a mechanical-physics equation. Nonetheless, I certainly believe we can reduce biased decision making in our field and improve fair treatment of applicants by using transparent and consistent, evidence-oriented methods. Eventually, if we collect and exchange enough information in a coherent manner, we might even build our own shared reality in international education!

drew

Drew Feder

Drew Feder co-founded Credential Consultants in 2007 and is a lead designer of Credential ConnectionTM software and the GRADE DatabaseTM, as well as co-author of the GRADE MethodTM. Drew began working in the credentials evaluation industry in 2004 as an evaluator and immediately became involved in management of production and customer service. Since then, Drew served as a Communications Director, General Manager and Evaluator for organizations including the Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE). Drew studied at Johns Hopkins University and Colorado College, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in International Political Economy in 2003, and is acting President of Credential Consultants.” www.credentialconsultants.com

Credential Consultants is an Affiliate Member of Association of International Credential Evaluators

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AN EVALUATOR’S JOURNEY

August 19th, 2016

Sunset

When I accepted my mother’s invitation to accompany her to a cocktail party, I did so reluctantly. It was July 1982 and as a freshly minted college grad with a BA in Political Science the last thing I wanted to do was attend a party with my mother. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done as I left the party with not one but three job offers. I decided to forgo the offer of working at a law office (even though I was toying with the idea of going to Law School), or a real estate office (numbers were not my forte) and chose instead to accept the hostess’s invitation to work at her private not-for-profit Foundation that specialized in international education research and evaluation. The rest, as they say is history. Over a course of thirteen years, I worked my way up the proverbial ladder from file clerk, to junior then senior evaluator, assistant to associate director and finally as Executive Director. Bitten by the entrepreneur spirit and an MBA in hand, I bid goodbye to my mentor and founded the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI) in 1994.

You can say I was born into the field of International education. Beginning from an early age by insisting on “working” at the education firm my mother headed in Tehran, Iran, to attending an international boarding school in England, and continuing my higher education in the U.S. The same is true for my brother and business partner, Alan Saidi, who joined me at ACEI in 1996 as Senior VP and COO. Together, we have infused into ACEI our personal life experiences of having lived in three different continents and benefiting from three different education systems (Iran, UK, and USA). Our mission has always been to make ACEI a company that truly cares for and values its international candidates who are considering to further their education, or qualify for employment, immigration or professional licensing or maybe they are displaced because of war and conflict and seeking refuge in the U.S.

Our own experiences, as international students morphed into immigrants, have enriched our understanding of the dreams of international students, immigrants and the plight of refugees. We have also garnered a deep appreciation of world cultures and the varied nuances of education systems around the world. Together with a team of expert evaluators we pride ourselves in ACEI’s history of over 22 years of dedicated service in international credential evaluation and helping our colleagues at U.S. schools and colleges with the admission of students from around the globe. We continue to share our experience through our e-learning training programs, our blog AcademicExchange, our monthly newsletter The Report, and by contributing to publications on world education systems, and speaking at various international education conferences.

As an Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators, we at ACEI are committed in preparing evaluations by recommending U.S. educational equivalencies that are consistent and in compliance with the Association’s Standards and Best Practices.

If you are exploring opportunities of outsourcing your international student credential evaluations, we hope you will consider ACEI as your number one source. You and your international students will receive the personal care and attention we know you deserve. It is our mission to be of service and we want to be your trusted source for international credential evaluations.

Kind regards,
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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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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Why ACEI?

July 8th, 2016

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Brexit and its Impact on U.K. Higher Education

July 1st, 2016

brexit

On Thursday, June 23rd, with a margin of 52 to 48 percent, British Citizens voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, spreading uncertainty and confusion among its universities and educators.

For a quick (and I mean quick) primer on the UK, watch this highly informative clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNu8XDBSn10&feature=youtu.be

Those in higher education opposed a British exit, or Brexit, from the EU. They view a severing of ties with the union as a detriment to collaborations in research, free movement of faculty, scholars and students. UK universities are concerned that the exit will have a severe impact on these international collaborations.  An exit from the union, also means that and end to E.U. funding which U.K. universities were receiving, an issue which they now have to ensure will be addressed by the government guaranteeing the continuation of funds and support.

As far as research collaborations are concerned, many opponents of Brexit argued that an exit from the union would prevent British academics from participating in E.U. research programs, such as the Horizon 2020, a program which is funded at nearly 80 billion pounds (approximately $88 billion) over a span of seven years.

Another issue which has U.K. universities concerned is about student mobility and whether it can still continue to participate in the union’s Eramus+student exchange programs? Will having to pay higher international study tuition fees deter students from the E.U. from attending U.K. universities?

According to a June 24, 2016 post on Inside HigherEducation: “Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, the U.K. has two years after it notifies the European Council of its intent to withdraw to negotiate a new agreement governing its future relations with the union. As the BBC reports, the referendum is not legally binding on Parliament, which must take action in order to initiate the U.K.’s separation from the E.U.”

For a positive spin on how Brexit may impact higher education, click here: http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/eu-referendum-result-brexit-leave-remain-higher-education-sector-students-a7100106.html

One thing is certain, and that is we can’t assume with Brexit business will continue as usual. Change is coming, but what that change will be and how it will affect U.K. higher education is for us to wait and find out.

jasmin_2015
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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How To Verify Chinese Degrees

June 23rd, 2016

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