Tag Archives: university

Embracing International Students: Lowering Standards for the Almighty $$$

May 3, 2012

Dollar Sign in Space - Illustration

As we seek ways to attract international students to our college campuses, lowering our standards and accepting candidates solely to boost revenue and clout doesn’t seem to be a smart way of going about it. But, it is exactly what’s happening. As states cut back on subsidies, slashing budgets and tightening belts, our colleges and universities are feeling the strain and altering their screening of foreign applicants.

In a way, being admitted on the basis of having famous parents may not necessarily get one into a university, but having influential relatives as likely donors will give the student a leg up. At least, that’s what Douglas Christiansen, the dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University is quoted as saying in an April 17, 2012 piece “Colleges angle for influential foreign students like Bo Guagua” on Reuters. Where a family’s clout overseas was once not a factor in the screening of applications of international students, more and more U.S. institutions are feeling the pinch and slowly abandoning their purist admissions practices and considering to “think about screening foreign applicants for their capacity to help boost revenue and prestige,” is how Phillip Ballinger, Admissions Director at the University of Washington in Seattle puts it in the same article.

You may have heard of Bo Guagua, and his “party-boy” persona, and even following the recent headlines surrounding his parents who are accused of political corruption and even murder of an English businessman in China. (Children of China’s political elite are commonly referred to as “princelings,” a strange moniker for a country that did away with emperors and all things princely.) Despite what news articles have uncovered about this young man’s spotty and subpar academic record beginning with his secondary education at Harrow (a prestigious boarding school for boys in England which appears to have admitted him on the basis of a strong recommendation from the very English businessman, now deceased), to his stint at Oxford University, where he was suspended for a year for “poor academic performance,” the 24-year old Bo Guagua was admitted to Harvard University’s Kennedy School to pursue a Master’s. And, he was on a scholarship!

What happened to academic performance? Parents are breaking their backs to put their students in college-preparatory programs and paying for private tutors so their children will score high on SAT’s and get into top notch universities. They apply for student loans and take second mortgages on their home to be able to pay for their child’s college tuition. And while soon-to-be high school graduates double up and pack their schedules with extra-curricular activities to strengthen their college applications, there are those, like the young Bo Guagua, who simply jump to the front of the line because of family ties and financial resources.

There’s something wrong with this picture and as one who has been involved in international education for nearly 30 years, I know the answer lies in the proper vetting of the international student with a thorough and detailed verification and evaluation of his/her academic documents. This may sound like a self-serving statement, but it is true. As public universities here in the US are feeling the pinch and pressured to loosen their reins on screening foreign applications, more and more are looking at ways to exercise more flexibility and at times turn a blind eye on the importance of credential evaluation. Sadly, one of the first departments that appear on an institution’s chopping block at times of financial hardship tends to be the international student office. Yet, the institutions set out to aggressively recruit international students knowing that they are a guaranteed revenue generating source.

Fortunately, there are still some holdouts in the education market. Just yesterday I spoke with the director of the international admissions office of a local community college who was adamant about having the applications of potential foreign students screened before encouraging them to apply to his institution. He wanted to be sure that a) the institution the foreign applicant had attended in his/her home country was accredited; b) the academic documents were bona fide, and c) that the studies were equivalent to U.S. high school graduation and beyond with satisfactory and above average grades. At least he has the good sense to verify these students’ academic documents in advance. Let’s hope that more institutions see things his way.

In our quest to attract international students, enriching our campuses with diversity and multiculturalism, boosting revenues that help our local and regional economies, we can maintain the integrity of our academic institutions without compromising our standards. If a community college is capable of doing this and still remain an attractive destination for international students, other institutions can do it too.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.
www.acei1.com

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Forensics of Academic Documents: Part I

One question that never fails to be asked when I present a workshop on foreign credential evaluations or even in casual conversation with someone asking me about what I do for a living is “do you see any forged documents?’” And I always reply “yes.” Foreign credential evaluation is part research and the determination of the U.S. academic equivalence of studies, and part detective work. In fact, there is an element of sleuthing and forensic science that’s involved when we examine academic documents. One thing that I always stress at seminars, conference workshops and at our in-house-training sessions at ACEI, is to first determine the document’s authenticity before starting the actual evaluation. This is not an easy task for a newcomer to the field and especially not so straight forward when dealing with documents coming from different parts of the world where knowledge of the nuances of a country’s mail system and document issuing practice is an essential component of the job. I find that I’ve become familiar with textures and smells of documents just as much as the country’s educational system and document processing procedures! Evaluation and determining document authenticity is tactile and intuitive supported by facts.

Over the years, I’ve encountered numerous falsified documents; some are bold and brazen attempts at reproducing transcripts and diplomas and some are sloppy and poorly executed tampering of data on existing “official” documents. The need to falsify documents stems either from desperation or a criminal mind wishing to break rules and laws as a means to an end. Regardless, if the rise in identity theft is any indication, we can be certain that document fraud will continue. And thanks to our ever evolving information technologies, we can be sure that reproducing documents using state of the art computer and printing machines has made the job easier for those seeing a profit to be made in this area.

One egregious example of fraud that comes to mind concerns a student who recently presented an official transcript and an original diploma for a bachelor’s degree in “Harbor and Port Engineering” bearing the official name, logo, insignia of a college in the United Kingdom. The individual was requesting the evaluation for employment with the transportation authorities in the port of Los Angeles and was adamant about having his equivalency report issued ASAP! (Beware of those demanding expedited service, overly aggressive and pushy manners…that alone is enough to raise the red flag!) Well, we did move fast by immediately contacting the institution in the UK for assistance with verification of the documents, since we knew from the information we had on file that this institution, albeit an approved post-secondary college, was only authorized to offer one to two-year certificate and diploma programs in general arts and sciences and NOT the Bachelor’s degree. The college responded immediately and confirmed our suspicions. The documents were not legitimate for the very reasons we had detected. Once we informed the individual that the College had notified us that his documents did not corroborate with records in the institution’s registry, we never heard from him again. The pestering phone calls and daily barrages of emails suddenly stopped.

Other cases of document fraud are not as sophisticated but include an alteration of a grade, credit, or course title to an existing original document. The forensics of detecting document fraud is both a science and an art and something that develops and matures with practice. Sometimes, it’s a hunch and sometimes it’s blatantly obvious to the naked eye. It is important to exercise due diligence as we handle academic documents for educational equivalency recommendations intended for college admission, employment, professional licensing and immigration.

If you have any personal experiences with having encountered fraudulent documents, please feel free to post a comment and share your story. In a future blog, I’ll share some helpful tips with you. In the meantime, channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and stay vigilant!

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.
http://www.acei1.com
June 16, 2011

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Graduation Clearance

“Life is my college. May I graduate well, and earn some honors!” ~Louise May Alcott

Once a student has “completed” his/her degree course requirements, passed all the final examinations and satisfied any financial obligations, the institution where the studies were completed may then consider the student eligible to graduate. Clearance for graduation is the process of official compliance with the academic and financial requirements established by the academic institutions. The issuance and printing of the actual paper degree diploma is a process that may take some institutions weeks or months to fulfill. In the event the student has completed the degree coursework and financial requirements and deemed eligible to graduate, the institution may issue an official statement confirming these facts with the promise that the paper diploma will be issued and available at a later date.

There are, however, countries (e.g. Mexico, Russia, Iran, to name a few) where requirements for graduation and award of the actual paper degree diploma require not only completion of courses for the degree, but also submission of a thesis, internship or social service, or passage of professional examinations. In such cases, the student must fulfill all these requirements in order to be considered eligible for graduation and the award of the diploma. However, if an institution issues academic transcripts and an official statement attesting that a student has fulfilled all course (including thesis, internship, etc.) and financial requirements for the degree program and confirms the student’s graduation and eligibility for the diploma/degree, the fact that the paper diploma is awarded at a later date does not imply that the program was incomplete and additional coursework was required.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.
June 8, 2011

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