Questions have been raised about a Chinese company paying thousands of dollars to top universities in the United States, according to Reuters news service.
Reuters says the money was given in exchange to help Chinese students apply to those schools.
In October, Reuters reported that eight former employees of Dipont Education Management Group had changed or improved students’ applications to U.S. universities. The company is based in Shanghai.
Six of the former employees say they wrote application essays for students. Universities in the U.S. require students to write and prepare their own applications. Essays are used to judge a student’s language, critical thinking and logic abilities, and whether they are of the same intellect and competency as other students attending that college.
A degree from an Ivy League, or prestigious, university can lead to better jobs, connections and opportunities for a graduate. Getting into that university under false pretenses would be fraudulent.
A former employee of Dipont told Reuters she altered letters of recommendation that teachers had written for students. Another said the company removed bad marks from a student’s high-school records.
Dipont responded on its website shortly after Reuters published its story. The company denied the claims, and said Reuters had misrepresented the educational exchange between the U.S. and China.
The company has a relationship with about 20 U.S. colleges and universities, including Vanderbilt University, Wellesley College, Tulane and the University of Virginia.
Admissions officers from these schools have attended special Dipont events in China each summer since 2014. The events involved personal meetings with students to help improve their chances when applying for college.
Dipont paid for the travel costs of the admissions officers attending the event, Reuters said. Reuters also said emails show Dipont gave money to some of the officers.
The Institute of International Education is an organization that researches international student exchanges. The organization reported that more than 300,000 Chinese college students studied in the U.S. in 2015.
U.S. universities look to international students to help increase income from tuition payments.
Hundreds of Chinese companies offer services to help students get into top schools.
The companies often charge a lot of money for this help, but sometimes that help may go too far.
In the past year, Reuters, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and VOA have reported cheating on college applications from students in China.
Dipont founder and chief executive Benson Zhang says his company is not involved in any wrongdoing.
“Many [schools], students and overseas colleges consider us one of the most ethical companies in China,” he told Reuters in an interview. Zhang denies claims from the former employees that they tried to report the alleged rule-breaking.
“If there had been such a case, it [was not] reported to me,” he said. “But I guarantee you, if such a complaint comes to my attention, I will deal with it [severely].”
Zhang said he had given $750,000 to a University of Southern California (USC) research center in Los Angeles, California that is meant to fight college-application fraud in China.
But concerns persist about the money. The company gave the money to USC through a New York-based non-profit company called the Council for American Culture and Education Inc. The non-profit was created in 2009 to help Dipont make connections in the American higher education system.
However, Reuters says the non-profit failed to correctly report its links to the Chinese company on its tax forms. The office of the New York Attorney General said it will review the non-profit group. If it suspects that New York law was violated, it will conduct an investigation.
Former Dipont employee Bruce Hammond says he tried to warn several schools about the company. In 2014, Hammond emailed officials at the University of Southern California, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University and others, saying Dipont was responsible for fraud in the application process.
The USC fraud research center told Reuters it has been investigating Hammond’s claims. But the center defended Dipont as a “reliable and valuable partner.”
Information provided by Dipont shows that admissions officers from 22 colleges and universities have attended its summer workshops in Shanghai since 2014.
The company paid for the cost of officers’ flights. Emails show that, in some cases, admissions officers could choose less-costly flights in exchange for up to $4,500 in cash.
Officials from Vanderbilt University, Pomona College and others admit to accepting free flights. But the Vanderbilt dean of admissions — Douglas Christiansen — said his admissions officer refused the cash. Christiansen told Reuters it would have been improper to accept the money.
Louis Hirsh is the chair of the admissions practices committee at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. He told Reuters that U.S. admissions officers can accept payments for travel costs when visiting American high schools. But they cannot accept money for recruiting students in the U.S.
However, Hirsh told Reuters there is no rule about payments to school officials who are counseling international students.
Sarah K. Lee was Dipont’s director of college counseling from 2010 to 2012. She told Reuters she learned of counselors writing essays for students as early as 2010. She said counselors told her they feared losing their jobs if they did not do everything their bosses told them to do.
The USC Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice is investigating Reuters’ claims.
This story was reported by Reuters news service and VOA Learning English.
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