How U.S. Colleges Sell Enrollment to the Highest Bidders
This past Friday, Reuters published one of the most important articles I’ve read in a while relative to the attention being paid to the issue. It details a streamlined practice through which Chinese “education” companies essentially bribe college admissions officers at top U.S. universities to accept tuition paying Chinese students. It’d be bad enough if these students were actually qualified, but in many cases these companies complete the entirety of the applications for the students, including writing their essays. It’s not uncommon for these student-clients to never see their own applications.
Naturally, these companies couldn’t pull off their sleazy scam without willing American partners. Enter Thomas Benson and Stephen Gessner, two eager-beaver members of our nation’s celebrated — earn as much money as possible however possible without regard to the negative consequences to your fellow Americans — class. The entire story will make you sick, and it’s just further proof of how cronyism, bribery and a complete lack of ethics has fully penetrated into virtually every single facet of American life. It’s symptomatic of the debased, crooked Banana Republic economy we have become.
Without further ado, here are some excerpts from the must read article, How Top U.S. Colleges Hooked Up With Controversial Chinese Companies:
SHANGHAI/SHELTER ISLAND, New York – Thomas Benson once ran a small liberal arts college in Vermont. Stephen Gessner served as president of the school board for New York’s Shelter Island.
More recently, they’ve been opening doors for Chinese education companies seeking a competitive edge: getting their students direct access to admissions officers at top U.S. universities.
Over the past seven years, Benson and Gessner have worked as consultants for three major Chinese companies. They recruited dozens of U.S. admissions officers to fly to China and meet in person with the companies’ student clients, with the companies picking up most of the travel expenses. Among the schools that participated: Cornell University, the University of Chicago, Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Two companies Benson and Gessner have represented – New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc and Dipont Education Management Group – offer services to students that go far beyond meet-and-greets with admissions officers.
Eight former and current New Oriental employees and 17 former Dipont employees told Reuters the firms have engaged in college application fraud, including writing application essays and teacher recommendations, and falsifying high school transcripts.
The New Oriental employees said most clients lacked the language skills to write their own essays or personal statements, so counselors wrote them; only the top students did original work. New Oriental and Dipont deny condoning or wittingly engaging in application fraud.
Building on a model they pioneered for Dipont, Benson and Gessner helped New Oriental introduce its clients to U.S. admissions officers, linchpin players in the fast-growing business of supplying Chinese students a prestigious American education.
Beijing-based New Oriental is a behemoth. Founded in 1993, the company is China’s largest provider of private education services, serving more than two million Chinese students a year. Its shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange. The company generates about $1.5 billion in annual net revenue from programs that include test preparation and English language classes. This year, about 10,000 of its clients were enrolled in American colleges and graduate schools.
A New Oriental student contract reviewed by Reuters states that its services include “writing or polishing” parts of college applications. The contract says New Oriental will set up an email account on behalf of the client for communicating with colleges, keeping sole control of the password. Several former employees said some students never even saw their applications: The company controlled the entire process, including submitting the application to colleges.
The new insight into the business practices of Chinese education companies comes at a time when American colleges are relying more heavily on Chinese undergraduates, who tend to pay full tuition. Their numbers grew 9 percent to 135,629 students in the 2015-2016 school year, representing nearly a third of all international undergraduates, according to the Institute of International Education.
Helping Chinese kids get into U.S. schools has become a significant industry, with hundreds of companies having sprung up in China to cash in. These businesses often charge large sums for services that sometimes include helping students cheat on standardized tests and falsifying their college applications.
Ghost-writing applications for students is so common in China that some who do it speak openly about the practice.
“I wrote essays and recommendation letters for students when I worked at New Oriental, which I still do right now for my own consultancy,” former New Oriental employee David Shi told Reuters. “I know there is an ethical dilemma but it’s the nature of the industry.”
Beginning in 2009, Gessner and Benson launched tours and summer camps for U.S. admissions officers to meet Dipont students in China and advise them on applying to colleges. Benson said he and Gessner recruited the universities through contacts in secondary and higher education.
To establish credibility with the colleges, they said, they set up a New York-based non-profit called the Council for American Culture and Education Inc, or CACE.
“It was a more respectable way to work as consultants. It helped us to recruit colleges,” said Gessner.
The strategy worked. The early participants included admissions officers from such prestigious institutions as Cornell, Stanford, Swarthmore College, Emory University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Reuters reported in October that the New York Attorney General’s office planned to review the charity, which had failed to disclose its ties to Dipont in U.S. and New York State tax filings. The review could lead to a formal investigation if authorities find evidence that CACE violated New York law.
Reuters also reported that eight former Dipont employees had described how the company had engaged in application fraud, including writing essays for students and altering recommendation letters. Since the story, Reuters has interviewed nine additional former Dipont employees who gave similar accounts.
To get the colleges to participate in the New Oriental trips, Benson and Gessner used the playbook they perfected at Dipont. Both Chinese companies paid airfare, hotel and other travel expenses for each of the admissions officers whom Benson and Gessner brought to China between 2009 and last year. “They wouldn’t go otherwise,” Benson said.
The ethics code for college admissions officers doesn’t address the propriety of such arrangements. Cigus Vanni, a retired high school counselor from Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, said it was “absolutely” unethical for colleges to accept the money. He likened it to a “pay-for-play” scheme in which prospective Chinese students get special treatment. Many American applicants to elite U.S. colleges – which can receive five to 20 applications for each available slot – don’t get to directly interact with admissions officers.
“You’re giving these people direct access to college admissions officers that no one else has,” said Vanni, who serves on the admissions practices committee of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “And there’s something expected in return for that.”
Corrupt, crony, parasitic economic practices have now infected every single aspect of American life.
New Oriental touts the benefits of this access to prospective clients. In promotional material on its website, the company described how, during the 2014 tour, it arranged for one of its students “to have opportunities to have close contact with a Carleton admissions officer.”
The testimonial ends with the young woman receiving an acceptance letter from Carleton College.
Olivia Qiu said she used New Oriental to apply to eight U.S. colleges in 2010. After completing a questionnaire, the counselors took over. “I didn’t write anything. They wrote everything for me,” she said.
Qiu ultimately didn’t attend any of those eight colleges. Before university, she took a job at New Oriental in Tianjin and said she wrote essays for students. Other employees, she said, wrote personal statements, supplemental essays and recommendation letters. “Sometimes, the student didn’t even see (the application) before they submitted it” to colleges, she said.
She said she quit over ethical concerns. “I just thought that’s not right, that’s not how you help students,” she said.
A current New Oriental employee said he once falsified an entire high school transcript for a student. A former employee who worked in 2014 and 2015 compared New Oriental’s college application process to an assembly line: One person was in charge of signing a service contract with parents, another compiling a college list, a third completing the application, and a fourth submitting it to universities.
By early this year, Benson and Gessner had stopped working for New Oriental and were focusing on new markets, including India, Sri Lanka and Africa.
But the duo hasn’t abandoned China. In June, CICE organized a tour for admissions officers from seven U.S. colleges on behalf of another Chinese company, EIC Group.
Class act these guys.
EIC Group paid CICE $35,000, according to Benson, and promoted the tour with an advertisement on its website. “By ‘schmoozing and exchanging ideas’ with admissions officers, you are halfway to a successful application to a famous school,” said the Chinese-language ad. The ad disappeared after Reuters questioned the company about it.
Let’s put the obvious ethical grotesqueness of it all aside for a moment and think about some of the real-world impacts of this pay-to-play pupil pipeline. With an ever growing supply of full tuition paying Chinese students waiting in the wings, what incentives do U.S. colleges have to keep tuition increases under control? Who cares if impoverished American debt slaves can afford an education or not? Like everything else in this sick society, it’s all about the money.
The Wall Street Journal published a related article earlier this year titled: Heavy Recruitment of Chinese Students Sows Discord on U.S. Campuses, where we learned that the education english speaking students receive often suffers due to the need to accommodate the surge in poorly prepared Chinese students. For example:
Students such as Mr. Shao are finding themselves separated from their American peers, sometimes through choice. Many are having a tough time fitting in and keeping up with classes. School administrators and teachers bluntly say a significant portion of international students are ill prepared for an American college education, and resent having to amend their lectures as a result.
Rebecca Karl, a professor of Chinese history at New York University, puts it more starkly: She says Chinese students can pose a “burden” on her lectures, which she needs to modify for their benefit.
Practices like these are able to sustain themselves due to public ignorance. It is imperative that we become far more informed as citizens, and far more outraged. Educate your friends and family by sharing this article.