Helping Students Cheat Their Way Into U.S. Universities

shh-forblog78359930If you’ve spent time working in International Schools, you know that not all graduating seniors will legitimately earn their way into the U.S. universities at which they’re accepted — a little grade ‘fixing,’ a helpful assist from the school counselor on an entrance application, a co-author’s rewrite of the personal essay, and, voila! The kid’s a Freshman at a prestigious university halfway around the world. You might ask, “What’s the harm of that?”

ISR says there’s plenty wrong! Inherent to our mission as educators is the desire to foster students capable of performing at a university level. Portraying students, on paper, as academically more than they are sets them up for failure both at school and in life. We’re all too familiar with the overly inflated senior who swaggers off to college, only to return after one semester, deflated and a prime candidate to attend a local/lesser university, if there is one, where Dad’s money can again influence the grading scale.

I’m reminded of a School Review hosted on International Schools Review. The Review tells of a math teacher whose student earned a “D” grade on each of 4 major exams. Soon after assigning a “D” to the final report card the director called the teacher into his office and pointed out an error had been made. The director demonstrated that by adding up the 4 “D” grades, each worth 1 point, one arrived at a total of 4 points, which “equated to a B grade.”  The teacher was instructed to correct the “error” and left the school thereafter.

DiPont Education, China, recently made the news for “helping” students gain acceptance to top-rated U.S. universities, although helping students to cheat would be a better description. Reuters News reports that Dipont Education “buttered up” admissions officers at top universities with free trips to China and $4,500 cash “honorariums.”  Reuters also reports that counselors confessed to writing admission essays and filling out university enrollment applications for students. There’s also the question of a $750,000 donation to the University of Southern California through DiPont’s U.S.-based non-profit corporation, currently under investigation by the IRS.

We encourage you to read the Reuters article in full. If the allegations are true, DiPont has set a precedent for going beyond anything we at ISR could even have imagined. Go to Reuters Article

There’s big money to be made in the International School business as host-national parents are ready and willing to plunk down big tuition bucks for a school with a track record of graduates attending top U.S. universities. Considering the hefty fees parents pay for such promises, they expect results. Of course, some students are qualified for top universities while other students clearly are not. The problem comes in when schools make those that are not, look like they are.

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…If you’ve spent time working in International Schools, you know that not all graduating seniors will earn their way into the U.S. universities at which they’re accepted. You might ask, “What’s the harm of that?” A little grade ‘fixing,’ a helpful assist from the school counselor on an entrance application, a co-author’s rewrite of the personal essay, and, hey! The kid’s a Freshman at a prestigious university halfway around the world…

23 Responses to Helping Students Cheat Their Way Into U.S. Universities

  1. Wizzy says:

    I was summoned to the administration recently to adjust grades that were to low or ND ( Not Done-missing work) I was forced to average whatever the student turned in and give a grade for work that was never done!


  2. Ron Tyson says:

    Grade inflation and grade fixing is so rampant at for-profit schools internationally that I would advise western universities to insist on scores from some internationally recognized organizations such as SAT be used.

    Grades or transcripts from schools, unless you can be absolutely certain of their veracity and the pristine reputation of the school, are meaningless. At an international school where I taught in the Middle East secondary teachers told me that in the springs when school was closing the grades which they recorded as “F’s” regularly reappeared as “A’s” the following Septembers on the students’ transcripts in the school office. Teachers being offered and pressured by parents to accept $10-25,000 for a grade change was commonplace. One HS teacher friend told me he had had 4 flash drives in one year stolen out of his desk in students’ attempts to learn what would be on tests they were about to take!


  3. Jon Cristofer Miller says:

    I am more than a little concerned about the sanctimonious tone of many of the writers. However, let me backtrack a little. I am the product of American public schools and both public and private universities. I have also taught in for-profit “trade schools” in the US and at for-profit high-schools in China as well as in public schools as a credentialed teacher. When any government – Chinese or American – fails to support its public schools, society suffers, and for-profit enterprises will attempt to fill the vacuum… some well, and some badly.
    Moving back to the abuses, where were these teachers when the students needed help on the nuances of language? Where were they in preparing students to write the term papers expected in American high schools, and certainly in American colleges and universities? As for the personal statements, they should be first and foremost personal. That does not mean that they should be shoddily written or uncorrected. An editor/proofreader has the moral obligation to assist in corrections and also in explaining the issues involved, grammatically, in both connotation and denotation. In other words, the process should be a learning experience for the student, not a sink-or-swim process with the “teacher” smugly standing aside.
    Do the abuses exist? Absolutely, and they need to be addressed by all the stakeholders. At the same time, the real work of teachers shows in the vast majority of students who – all shortcomings aside – prosper in American settings. ###


  4. Matty says:

    I work at a school in Yangon and inflating grades is expected and is the norm for the rich kids going to some of these establishments. Most schools here are for-profit! Beware!


  5. Mwalimu says:

    In China this is far from confined to Dipont , I was there 5 years. Perhaps what I saw is less serious than the Dipont case but I know for a fact that the parents signed a ” contract ” that the student would attend a certain group of universities . The management then used the % attending those universities , with falsified statistics , in its recruitment material . It didn’t seem to count that the student went to a university that was outside the magic 20 , that was world famous for what it did in that subject , as far as that management were concerned that didn’t count as they weren’t in the magic 20 .

    And there is simply no point in over -polishing ” Personal Statements ” or university entrance essays . The admissions tutors know what to expect from a 17 year old Chinese writing in a foreign language compared to what will be written by a middle aged , educated ” gwailo ” . I explained to my students when they applied to universities where the admissions tutors were personal friends of mine that they would see the school and they would know that it had been written by ” Mwalimu ” . This worked , even in the context of Cambridge, because if you couldn’t back up what you had “written ” then you would be sunk anyway in the interview.


    • Mwalimu says:

      What I forgot to say is that isn’t confined to Asia either . Anyone who knows Kiswahili will know that I worked in East Africa for many years too. One time I detected a falsified application with all the grades inflated by 2 steps too. Fortunately the father , who was Western educated , realised that such falsification would not work .

      I also worked in the Middle East. What you have to realise is that even some of the ” Top Ten ” universities worldwide are complicit in some of this when they accept funding for a scholarship from an eg. minor royal in return for a place for Junior ( brainless ) .


  6. Don McMahon says:

    In a Kuwaiti International school, I was offered a new automobile if I changed a grade in a typing class, for a graduating student. I was the college and guidance counselor at the time and of course I refused. The DG tried to get me to change them, but I spoke to the owner and the section principal and it was handled discretely. There was also a case of a student changing her transcripts trying to get entry into a Kuwaiti university. The principal and I went to the university, attested to the forgery and confronted the student.

    In a Mexican school, I was teaching geography and doing counseling. When the time came to meet the parents at year end, the owner refused to let me see them and I am sure she changed my grades to reflect more positively on the students. I was leaving that year anyway and so I called all the parents in that class and told them the grades had been altered against my wishes. This caused serious problems for the owner, which was the consequence of cheating.

    I have helped many students in filling out their college applications, but have always required that they be truthful and transparent about themselves, my involvement and their grades. The practice of cheating on applications,grades etc. is anti-educational, aberrant and counter-productive, since reality hits home sooner than later!


  7. Glad I'm Retired says:

    This happened to me in New York! A student plagiarized a second paper, and her failing grade was changed to a D by admin without my even being notified. Sadly, teachers, our professionalism, and our expertise get no respect anywhere.


  8. Duke 1 says:

    I worked for DiPont briefly a few years ago, and it is true. The organization is a shambles – dishonest, unprofessional, the Chinese ‘schools’ the y work for are the same.


  9. Doug Cooke says:

    Unfortunately, this may be more the norm than realized. I have worked at international schools that don’t require teachers to sign student report cards. Teachers are actually denied the chance to review the report cards or any student records. Any insistence on the teacher’s part results in terminated contracts. Principals have kept their jobs based on their willingness to “amend grades” and are shuffled from school to school once their habits are outed by outraged teachers, who themselves find that their services are no longer required. Teachers can actually find themselves quickly short-listed for jobs based on their reputation for looking the other way come report card time. hen you lay with dogs you get fleas.


  10. Anon. says:

    OMG. This is so true. I work at an ‘international’ school in SE Asia and I am tseriously considering leaving mid contract because of this issue. Students in some subjects are given tests pulled from textbooks on material they haven’t learnt – get low marks then on their report cards get A+ – Alternatively, they are given ‘tests’ and allowed to use open textbooks. The admin chooses to ignore and even encourages such behavior. Teachers who mark honestly, then get parents storming in demanding to know why their kid has only got an A- a B or C….and yes, many of these school are WASC accredited. I am beyond disgusted..


    • Disgusted says:

      WASC has lost credibility with many teachers as they are so money motivated, any school that applies gets accredited. On some visits, they never talk to teachers and are just wined and dined by admin. and don’t bother checking records to verify fake reporting. Someone should investigate WASC overseas accreditation process. What a joke!


  11. Gregory says:

    It is an unfortunate reality that there are any agencies within China that promise parents that they can get their child into top ranked school in the US. Of course this comes with a hefty price but the economics of China has given them the funds to pay. Students ask for transcripts for application and these then are scanned and altered to show the desired grades. Parents are happy, schools are none the wise or if they are they are happy as they can now say that their graduate class is attending such schools. In either case it saddens me to know that much of this alteration is not coming from the student but rather the parent. Ultimately the ones that get hurt are the students as they may make it in but soon realize that their economic boom doesn’t guarantee them a longevity. Before long they are back in China trying for a GED and thousands of dollars short.


  12. Jon Cristofer Miller says:

    Dear ISR:

    I taught at Dipont [2008-2010], and have previously reported on some good and aspects that affected me. I won’t recount them here.
    However, I would like to comment on the “rewriting” criticisms leveled above.

    1. The counseling department did an excellent job of alerting students to deadlines for stages in the application process, and following up to make sure students turned in materials on time.
    2. I told my students that I would write letters of recommendation for anyone who asked. However, they had to work with me to prepare meaningful resumes and sensible personal statements.
    3. For reasons still unclear [perhaps a “Dummy’s Guide to Personal Statements for Chinese Students], the initial letters were atrocious. They sounded like the inane “speeches” of beauty pageant contestants.
    4. Many students came in thinking that there were only 5 or 10 quality colleges and universities in the US.
    5. I told them that they had to write their drafts in English, in order NOT to garble words, e.g., segregation and distillation are both kinds of separation, but they are not interchangeable.
    6. In discussions with European faculty members, there was a clear difference in expectations from European universities. They expected personal statements to chronicle a narrow range of personal and academic achievements. By contrast, American colleges and universities do not lay much trust in most applicants’ awareness of what they will encounter in those institutions. Consequently, they are looking for more of the character traits and the self-awareness of the students. Writing about being inspired by Gandhi, Jesus, or one’s father tends to be discounted as superficial. One student wrote of moving from the country – where she could walk around her house and see “the whole world” stretching out – to the city, where her world was contained in two rows of houses terminating in a cross street a block away. She was admitted to one of the top technical institutes in the United States.
    7. When I did finally write the letters, they reflected the whole student. All but three were admitted to good and appropriate colleges and universities. Some – whom I had rated lower than the rest – did amazingly well in an American context.
    8. Those 3 not admitted, went to American jr. colleges, where they had the time and support that they should have received at Dipont. I do not know what happened to them later, but I suspect that they, too, found the right fit and ended up with legitimate four-year degrees.
    9. For the record, teachers did not assign grades. Those were determined by the Cambridge CIE “A-Level” exams, which we neither prepared nor graded. We could – and did – try to put some kind of relative ranking in our letters of recommendation. Teachers then – and I suspect, now – care about students and do not want them put into university situations for which they are not prepared.

    I cannot speak of what happened since 2010, except to repeat my criticism of a then-new Director of Studies who pushed out older teachers in favor of cheaper younger ones.

    Finally, I am willing to discuss these issues further with anyone who cares to respond.

    Hoping this response addresses some of the issues raised, I remain,


    Jon Cristofer Miller


  13. Robert 14 says:

    I was asked by my head to change my grades in a school in Hong Kong a couple of years ago. I refused and did not have my contract renewed. I know for a fact that many teachers inflated the students grades, sometimes by up to 40%. It will eventually blow up in their faces.


  14. got the T shirt already says:

    I had a similar experience in Guatemala. An “honor” student that never attended my class, but who was enrolled, received an “A” on her report card. When I went to the office to inquire I was told that the girl said she had met me in the hallway prior to the start of school and knew in advance the class would be boring. So she decided not to attend. I was told – “looks like your reputation has preceded you.”

    Interesting thing was I was new to the school and the international circuit. The kid kept the “A” and I got an early introduction to how the school worked, or should I say failed to work. The school boiled down to a group of spoiled Guatemalan kids with a super over inflated perception of who they were. Most all graduates returned back to Guatemala after one semester, surprised that their university professors actually expected them to actually work.

    Their parents’ money had turned them into a useless group of untalented kids who took a hard blow to the chin when they entered the real world. Of course, once back in Guatemala they resumed their unearned positions as big fish in a little pond. It’s sad for these kids and for their country that must endure them in leadership position bought for them by their parents. If DiPont is engaged in this sort of behavior they are in effect ruining the world.


    • Wizzy says:

      I had a similar situation in Guatemala. One student copied story from a notable author ( word for word) and I was forced to grade it. I gave an “A” for copying.


  15. mautio1 says:

    This happened to me as a grade four teacher. A new report card was printed for a student, the name covered and I was forced to sign it knowing the grades had been adjusted. At a different school, I had to make sure an Asian student received no less than 60%; he was going back to his host country and anything less than that would have been frowned upon. I met a grade 12 student in the Middle East headed to university for math and didn’t know what Pi was…


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