Forged Transcripts and Fake Essays: How Unscrupulous Agents Get Chinese Students into U.S. Schools

Because many Chinese students have trouble making sense of the American admissions process, a huge industry of education agents has arisen in China to help guide them — and, in some cases, to do whatever it takes to get them accepted

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Imaginechina / AP

A Chinese student visits stalls during an international education exhibition in Beijing

This fall, David Zhu will join an exodus of Chinese students boarding planes for the leafy, beer-soaked campuses of American colleges and universities. Zhu, currently a university student in Shanghai, will be enrolling at Oregon State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business — a dream his parents have had since they started saving a $157,000 nest egg for his education. But like many Chinese students who don’t speak English fluently, Zhu might not have been accepted without a little help. The 21-year-old hired an education agent in China to clean up and “elaborate” on the essay he submitted as part of his application. “Actually, the agency helped my application to some extent,” he says.

Stories like Zhu’s are becoming increasingly common as the ranks of Chinese students going abroad for college continue to swell. Because many Chinese students have only basic knowledge of foreign universities and have trouble making sense of complicated applications, a huge industry of education agents has arisen in the country to help guide them — and, in some cases, to do whatever it takes to get them accepted. This has created a thorny ethical dilemma in the U.S. While many American schools are elated by the influx of Chinese students as they’ve scrimped and saved to make ends meet in the economic downturn, some educators worry that the reliance of Chinese students on agents has led to some unintended — and troubling — consequences.

(MORE: Why Are China’s Universities Losing Their Star Students?)

Although Chinese students have been going to America to study for decades, their numbers have spiked dramatically in the past few years. In the 2010–11 school year, more than 157,000 Chinese students were enrolled at institutions of higher learning in the U.S. — a 22% increase over the previous year and tops among all countries. (Second-place India had just 104,000.) The largest increase has been among undergrads: China sent nearly 57,000 to the U.S. in 2010–11, up from 10,000 five years earlier. For the wealthy, an overseas education is becoming almost standard. A survey conducted by China’s Hurun Report found that 85% of rich Chinese parents planned to send their kids abroad to study. The U.S. is their preferred destination, followed by the U.K. and Canada.

While there are a host of reasons for this explosion, money and prestige appear to be the most important factors. Not only can more Chinese families now afford to pay the tuition at a foreign university, they also view it as a better investment in their children’s future. Universities in the West are revered in China, and homegrown schools — even the best ones — fail to measure up. “I think the college education in China is not very practical,” says Vincent Sun, another Fudan student who will be enrolling at MIT this fall to pursue a master’s degree in finance. “When I will be searching for a job, I think a degree from a very famous [foreign] university is a huge thing I think that will put me into a very good place.” Ironically, a foreign university can also be a fallback for Chinese students who don’t do well enough on the national exam, the gaokao, to get into a Chinese school — there’s always an American college willing to take their tuition dollars.

But many of these students would probably never make it to America without a middleman to pave the way. According to a 2010 report by Zinch China, a consultancy that advises U.S. colleges and universities on China, 8 out of every 10 Chinese undergraduate students use an agent to file their applications. And with such intense competition among agents — not to mention ambitious students and their overzealous parents — cheating is rampant, the group says. It estimates that 90% of recommendation letters from Chinese students are fake, 70% of college application essays are not written by the students, and half of all high school transcripts are falsified. “The world of higher education is becoming extremely competitive, much more so than it was even 10 years ago, and I think the kids are looking for an edge,” says Tom Melcher, chairman of Zinch China. “Everyone is looking around and saying, ‘Well, everyone else is cheating, why shouldn’t I?’”

(MORE: These Schools Mean Business)

Another issue that concerns some admissions officers in the U.S. is where the money is coming from. Not only are agents paid by families in China — up to $10,000 before bonuses, according to Zinch — some American schools also have contracts with agents that guarantee them a commission for each student they enroll. This practice constitutes a potential conflict of interest, says Philip Ballinger, head of a commission launched by the Washington-based National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) to study the issue of foreign recruiting. “If money is first, then perhaps the interest of student or the person that’s involved is not first,” he says.

What’s desperately needed is greater oversight in China and the U.S. — something both sides are now trying to address. The Chinese government realizes that doctored transcripts are a problem: earlier this year, it launched a new service to verify students’ high school grades for foreign universities. But because there are literally thousands of agents operating in China, cheating will persist. “The Chinese kids, when I talk to them, they sort of think it’s the schools’ fault. The schools will say you have to have a recommendation letter from a guidance counselor, and Chinese kids don’t have guidance counselors,” Melcher says. Zhu, the student enrolling at Oregon State, says his agent didn’t falsify documents beyond the “elaborated” essay, but he believes doing so is sometimes a necessary evil. “Some schools in China test students by very hard questions beyond their abilities, so the scores students get are very low. So the students who want to go to the USA, they had to change their scores,” he says. “But the students are still very good students because they’re in the best schools in Shanghai.”

In the U.S., there are hopes that the NACAC committee investigating overseas recruiting practices will bring much needed clarity to a situation that has been a relative free-for-all in recent years. While federal law prohibits colleges and universities from paying commissions to recruit students in the U.S., there is no statute against doing it internationally. NACAC has a policy against it, but enforcement has been put on hold while its investigation is continuing. The group’s second meeting is set for this fall; recommendations are expected to come in 2013.

(MORE: Why Is College Enrollment Dropping?)

Although it acknowledges that fraud is a major concern, NACAC is focusing initially on the question of whether universities should be permitted to pay overseas recruiters commissions. Mitch Leventhal, vice chancellor for global affairs at the State University of New York (SUNY) and an outspoken pro-recruiter advocate, argues that agents can provide a legitimate and useful service for foreign students, provided they operate in a professional and transparent way. He says it’s ridiculous to suggest that universities should stop using agents. “That’s sticking your head in a hole. They’re not going to go away because market demand is there, so the best way to address it is to engage them and identify the good ones.”

Leventhal believes he’s found a way to do that. He’s founder of an organization called the American International Recruitment Council, which has developed a rigorous process for certifying international agents. Agents must volunteer and pay a fee for the service, which involves a third-party investigation of their business, an external review by two members of U.S. universities and a confidential complaint system. So far, the group has certified about 45 agents, who benefit, Leventhal says, from having increased access to U.S. schools. And after agents are thoroughly vetted, he sees nothing wrong with paying them commissions, so long as the schools are also transparent about it. At SUNY, the fee is 10% of the student’s first-year tuition. “No one likes to pay a commission to a real estate broker when we buy a house because it’s another expense,” he says. “But we don’t deny the fact that a real estate broker works on commission and deserves to earn something for their effort.”

This sentiment isn’t shared by everyone. Mark Sklarow, head of the Washington-based Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), says students in China are better served by so-called educational consultants, who are paid solely by families (not by U.S. universities) to find the best educational match for students. Dozens of consultants in China have applied to become IECA members, but the organization must first ensure they’ve never accepted money from a college or university and they’ve never engaged in fraudulent practices. He believes that as Chinese students become more familiar with the U.S. application process, they’ll increasingly turn to consultants like these to help them make decisions about colleges rather than put all their trust in agents.

Sklarow says the U.S. is at a turning point too. For the past five years, colleges and universities were “balancing their budgets on Chinese students,” but he thinks the pressure is now on them to find a way to regulate the system. “I think until American colleges stand up and say we need a way to guarantee that the students we accept, that the records we’re looking at are whole, complete and legitimate, the problem continues to grow.”

LIST: The 20 Colleges with the Most (and Least) Student Debt

* Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified David Zhu’s school. He attends the Shanghai University of Electric Power, not Fudan University.

46 comments
might
might

Nowadays studying abroad is one of the trend that both the parents want their kids to get better job opportunities. This is the time of competitive world and everyone wants to be ahead of each other. And offcourse this will lead to forged and fake profile of the students.

http://www.besonline.in/index.php

SecondMom
SecondMom

I know this article is old but, I learned yesterday that both of my Chinese home stay students faked their high school records to get into a Canadian college near me. I had not known about this before and why they suddenly decided to disclose this information rather shocking. I asked "How could you do something like that? Isn't it hard to fake high school grades?" Imagine my shock when they replied that they had gone to a private high school and that it was common to just tell the teachers they would attend college in Canada and "needed" certain grades, so the teachers themselves changed the grades! 

I did notice that when they asked for assistance with assignments that their writing skills and understanding seemed to be shockingly low for a college level degree. I tried to help them understand the rubrics and check over some assignments. Their grades here have been "fair" but, I also noticed that they seemed to copy and paste a lot from the internet, study with friends, have friends ask to use their work in other classes. I explained that in Canada such practices ARE considered cheating and can get you kicked out of school. One of their friends who does not live with me, learned that I was trying to tutor my home stay students a bit and offered me money to "do the homework" for him. 

 Graduation looms in a month...both will pass. I'm not sure how I feel about having praised their hard work in being accepted to college here now. I mean they didn't DO the same level of hard work that the Canadian students in the same school did to get there. In fact they "faked" their marks. I am fond of both of these girls as people yet I am really upset about this issue. I did wonder why the college didn't seem to be holding them to the same standard this past year as comparable local students but, determined I didn't know enough about the foreign students requirements. 

Both girls seemed to feel a mixture of guilt and a weird kind of pride about having rooked the system. They will graduate. I will continue to be a homestay mom as it is a very enriching experience but, in the future I will stress that our culture requires academic honesty and if I find anything less than that to be true that I may need to contact the school. I asked them "How many Chinese students they know at just this school have done the same?" their answer "At least fifty percent, maybe more." What a shame! 

LanceJohnson
LanceJohnson

An interesting new book/e-book that helps those coming to the US is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those foreigners who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also identifies foreigners who became successful in the US and how they contributed to our society. It has a chapter that explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with our new culture. Half of foreign students stay here after graduation. It even has four chapters that explain how US businesses operate, a must for those who will work for an American firm or with a foreign firm in the US environment. Two chapters identify the common speech and grammar errors made by foreigners and tips for easily overcoming them polish their language. However, most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from concerned Americans and books like this to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation. www.AmericaAtoZ.com

WQS China Marketing
WQS China Marketing

 It is nice to serious dialog and progress in assuring the Chinese recruitment process is handled in an ethical manner.

We encourage all American universities wanting to recruit Chinese

students to develop a presence (even a small one) in China and thus they

can verify applicants and recruit on their own terms. With an office

(or representative) in China they can work on legitimately building

their name and developing relationships with their Chinese

counter-parts.

By focusing on certain niches and developing “guan-xi” we see

universities making great advancements in their Chinese enrollment

numbers.

http://www.wqs-china-marketing...

GongZhu
GongZhu

It seems it is always easier to point the finger at others…

I wonder if Zinch suggests schools to their Chinese clients based on what is in the best interest of the student... or if they are biased to the universities that pay more $$$...?

My advice to Zinch is not to offend your host. There are better ways at making a point than pointing the finger with generalizations and "estimates" that are from unscientific studies.

Actually, I have seen this "study" (or "estimate" rather) on one of their websites... It is from about 250 "respondents/participants" in Beijing (that are actually Zinch clients and "parents they know well", that attend "top high schools"). Zinch says this "estimate" was not only done informally (no clear records, details etc.) but also Zinch admits some of the "estimated data" is from the very agents Zinch says are not trustworthy. (not a very scientific study)

DIRECT QUOTE:

Zinch's Methodology (quoted from a published paper "White Paper No. 4") -

"It’s impossible to collect reliable statistics about cheating, since the most-interesting respondents are the least likely to be honest. We’ve therefore relied on interviewing students and parents we know well, and have asked them to ask their friends. In all, we’ve spoken directly or indirectly with about 250 high school seniors from China (and some of their parents), the majority of whom attend China’s top high schools. In addition, we’ve chatted with several Chinese agents, with the assurance that we will not identify them."

WQS China Marketing
WQS China Marketing

 We encourage all

American universities wanting to recruit Chinese students to develop a

presence (even a small one) in China and thus they can verify applicants

and recruit on their own terms. With an office (or representative) in

China they can work on legitimately building their name and developing

relationships with their Chinese counter-parts. By focusing on

certain niches and developing 'guan-xi' we see universities making great

advancements in their Chinese enrollment numbers. http://www.wqs-china-marketing...

davestraub
davestraub

I  am an American and I worked for an agency a year ago in Hangzhou, so I can vouch for all of the fakery involved in applications. It's absolutely true. The one problem I have with this article is that when I googled China Zinch, I come up with this website - 

http://www.zinch.cn/undergrads... . It is also an agency trying to sell students on US colleges. If this is indeed the same China Zinch quoted above, it's a bit like using a manager at McDonald's as a source to tell you how bad Burger King hamburgers are. If China Zinch is using local Chinese managers to run their operation in China, then I would be suspicious of anything they do as well. I'm not saying these Chinese education agents aren't bad. They are. I'm just saying what is the difference between them and China Zinch?

Another thing is the numbers quoted by China Zinch:

"It estimates that 90% of recommendation letters from Chinese students are fake, 70% of college application essays are not written by the students, and half of all high school transcripts are falsified."

Those are really round numbers and seem like guesses to me. They might not be that far off the mark, but I'd like to see the metrics China Zinch used to come to these conclusions, especially if these numbers become a quotable source. They almost seem to me like some manager at China Zinch came up with these numbers off the cuff. Again, cheating on applications is rampant, but I'd be suspicious of quoting China Zinch. 

DoctorWhy
DoctorWhy

What's the difference between a paid "consultant" and an "agent"?

Le Zhou
Le Zhou

Most of the universities in the US will accept them because of the out state tuition fee they charged from those Chinese students. After them failed the first semester, the school will send them to the ESL classes and start making more money. So most of those Chinese students will stay in the college for almost 5-6 years to complete their degrees! The schools don't even complaint about this, why do you complaint about it?! Made me a Chinese LOL

linsenmu
linsenmu

Anyone who thinks that the US universities don't know about this is a fool.  They don't care, in fact they prefer Chinese students because their parent's have money and have no problem paying inflated tuition costs with cash.  When it comes to academic integrity or cold hard cash, the cash wins every time with US universities.

DoctorEA
DoctorEA

As a member of IECA, and as someone who worked on college campuses, I can attest to the fact that there are scrupulous as well as unscrupulous consultants out there.  The problem with an article like this is that it makes it sound as if the problem is limited to Chinese applicants.  It is not.  Even in the US there are agents who create essays for students or who otherwise pad the resumes of their clients.  Even cheating on standardized exams has had to be addressed through the use of licenses or other photo IDs.  The fact is that there are many possibilities out there, and anyone with a high school diploma or GED can find an accredited two or four year college that will fit their abilities, their skills, and their goals.  That is my job as a consultant, and that is what parents pay me to do--find the right school for their son or daughter that will get them an education and professional skill set, not help their student get into a "name" school because they think it will look better on their resume.

ULURU
ULURU

What is the purpose of American universities - to educate Americans, or educate Chinese?

Jerico Cruz
Jerico Cruz

US schools doesn't care, as long as they get the greens.

ivycounsel 埃维大学规划师
ivycounsel 埃维大学规划师

IVY Counselors Network has worked with hundreds of students from China. We are US based counselors and followed NACAC for college admissions. Our students and families fully accepted the difference between agents and counselors. show more show less

Edit

Reply

Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/07/...

ivycounsel 埃维大学规划师
ivycounsel 埃维大学规划师

IVY Counselors Network has worked with hundreds of students from China. We are US based counselors and followed NACAC for college admissions. Our students and families fully accepted the difference between agents and counselors. 

marionkiren23
marionkiren23

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for eight months but last month her pay was $16724 just working on the

laptop for a few hours. Here's the site to read more

http://www.LazyCash49.com

duduong
duduong

It is not just when they apply for American universities that the Chinese students cheat; they do that in Chinese universities on a scale and to a level of audacity unparalleled among even the most debauched fraternity brothers in the US.

It is not just the Students in China who cheat; their professors do so even more blatantly. Most of their academic papers are either plagiarized or contain falsified data, because they are evaluated by their employers, the universities, purely on the quantity of their publication and not the quality. One of them went as far as scraping Texas Instrument trade mark off some TI DSP (digital signal processor) chips and passing them off as his own invention a few years ago. The real shocker is that these cheaters are almost never punished even when caught. The fake DSP inventor still drives to his reserved parking space in his European made sports car to this day.

This has been a great puzzle to me: does the Chinese ruling class, which seems so adept at steering its massive economy over 30 years, not know that human brain is the most valuable asset in the modern world? Why do they put so much efforts into securing physical resources from around the world while not bothering at all to fix this wide-spread cheating culture at home? Do they not realize that cheating professors and college graduates are not the right foundation for a knowledge-based economy? When will this shaky foundation start to imperil the Chinese economy and society?

Confucius once said that the true threat to a great nation is more often found within the city wall than without. This is a lesson that the US could well use, but the same can probably be said for China too.

GongZhu
GongZhu

It seems it is always easier to point the finger at others…

I wonder if Zinch suggests schools to their Chinese clients based on what is in the best interest of the student... or if they are biased to the universities that pay more $$$...?

My advice to Zinch is not to offend your host. There are better ways at making a point than pointing the finger with generalizations and "estimates" that are from unscientific studies.

Actually, I have seen this "study" (or "estimate" rather) on one of their websites... It is from about 250 "respondents/participants" in Beijing (that are actually Zinch clients and "parents they know well", that attend "top high schools"). Zinch says this "estimate" was not only done informally (no clear records, details etc.) but also Zinch admits some of the "estimated data" is from the very agents Zinch says are not trustworthy. (not a very scientific study)

DIRECT QUOTE:

Zinch's Methodology (quoted from a published paper "White Paper No. 4") -

"It’s impossible to collect reliable statistics about cheating, since the most-interesting respondents are the least likely to be honest. We’ve therefore relied on interviewing students and parents we know well, and have asked them to ask their friends. In all, we’ve spoken directly or indirectly with about 250 high school seniors from China (and some of their parents), the majority of whom attend China’s top high schools. In addition, we’ve chatted with several Chinese agents, with the assurance that we will not identify them."

GongZhu
GongZhu

It seems it is always easier to point the finger at others…

I wonder if Zinch suggests schools to their Chinese clients based on what is in the best interest of the student... or if they are biased to the universities that pay more $$$...? (Hypocrisy?)

My advice to Zinch is not to offend your host. There are better ways at making a point than pointing the finger with generalizations and "estimates" that are from unscientific studies.

Actually, I have seen this "study" (or "estimate" rather) on one of their websites... It is from about 250 "respondents/participants" in Beijing (that are actually Zinch clients and "parents they know well", that attend "top high schools"). Zinch says this "estimate" was not only done informally (no clear records, details etc.) but also Zinch admits some of the "estimated data" is from the very agents Zinch says are not trustworthy. (not a very scientific study)

DIRECT QUOTE:

Zinch's Methodology (quoted from a published paper "White Paper No. 4") -

"It’s impossible to collect reliable statistics about cheating, since the most-interesting respondents are the least likely to be honest. We’ve therefore relied on interviewing students and parents we know well, and have asked them to ask their friends. In all, we’ve spoken directly or indirectly with about 250 high school seniors from China (and some of their parents), the majority of whom attend China’s top high schools. In addition, we’ve chatted with several Chinese agents, with the assurance that we will not identify them."

eddie1234
eddie1234

Of course Americans will say the US Universities do not know and put all the blame on the Chinese students.  This is a magazine controlled by westerners.

They collected a lot of money and they are completely innocent!  LOL

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

Insinuating that American academic integrity is horrible as this is funny.  Now, have you ever faked or know anyone that had

faked an American school transcript?  The answer should be nearly impossible

because the US school transcript is easily verifiable.  And they -ALWAYS- find out any discrepancies.

The best part of cheating in American university is the punishment.  Now from, here and on, your name will be blacklisted to all graduate programs and medical schools. Period.  If you're a scientists that falsified data, you lose all grants and position in your field.  And you spend jail time depending on how much laws you broke in the process of cheating.  And the jail time will go on your background check record, and you can say goodbye to any future job application.

The problem with international students (not talking about just China) is that it is very difficult to verify transcripts.  And often, the foreign institution participated in the forgery.  The question also becomes how do you punish international forgers? You just deny them and send them back to their country.  Not much of a punishment.

eddie1234
eddie1234

The purpose is to make green.  Can you understand the article?

f_galton
f_galton

Agreed. The Higher Ed industry is corrupt.

Cmdr_Casey_Ryback
Cmdr_Casey_Ryback

Cheating a "problem?: Like, politics in Chicago (D) being "honest?"

The Chinese would say, "America, look in the mirror, first."

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

Ever since Imperial China started in 221 BC, the ruling class has been able to live without having to work hard, except in revolutionary time when they became the new ruling class.

They know they take advantage of people, so they hire someone like Confucius to create a false society where people don't have the intelligence to figure them out. Your puzzle can be easily answered because slaves don't need a brain as quantity makes up for quality, and slaves cannot be allowed to be honest to show up the owners.

Can 1 billion people be fooled like this? Well, not long ago everyone on Earth believed the Sun revolved around them. And when they looked up and observed, they would find no reason to believe otherwise.

Le Zhou
Le Zhou

US schools are BS too! We all know Chinese labor cost is low, so school's science teachers use a lot of foreign students to do their lab work as part of their assignments. If you don't do it, the professor won't grade your papers! You have to retake your classes again and again. That is called American Greed!

eddie1234
eddie1234

It would be foolish to fake an American transcript in America.  The article talks about Chinese students faking Chinese transcript in America, not in China.  So please compare apples to apples.  Faking American school transcript in a foreign country is a pience of cake. 

KoreaQute
KoreaQute

@eddie1234 How about Chinese students faking their transcript in China and showing it to a foreign country like America?

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

"Thanks for knowing nothing about Chinese history. You've done a good job at being ignorant, just like OweBama (D). Way to go."

You probably thought this argument of yours was a safe bet. But no, I am native Chinese. I swear it is true because I really want to how you will respond without being overly rude.

Cmdr_Casey_Ryback
Cmdr_Casey_Ryback

Thanks for knowing nothing about Chinese history. You've done a good job at being ignorant, just like OweBama (D). Way to go.

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

Cmdr_Casey_Ryback:

Good. Looks like your trip to the hospital has cured your insanity. Hope the next time you wouldn't curse at things you don't understand.

Cmdr_Casey_Ryback
Cmdr_Casey_Ryback

TRANSLATION: original post was so unreadable, a mandatory trip to mental hospital required.

OWE-BAMA KILLS JOBS

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

"Do you have a point?"

Yes, my point is I was wondering what your point was in your three letter comment. Actually I could've simply asked you the same question, but I thought you might be worthy of a more stimulating question.

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

Were you quoting the Church when they first heard that geocentrism is wrong?