College Admissions Cheating Scandal: International Edition

Remember Operation Varsity Blues? You know, the sexy cheating scandal where celebrities bribed coaches to get their kids into top colleges. Well, enter Operation TOEFL Recall. The TOEFL is the international students’ equivalent of an SAT or ACT. It’s designed to determine whether an international student has the reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills necessary to be successful in an American class (taught in English). The ring leader for Operation TOEFL Recall illegally took the exam for over 40 Chinese students, which gave them student visas so they could study in the United States.

According to the Wall Street Journal, universities reported that international students cheat 5 times more than domestic students. The University of Iowa investigated at least 30 Chinese students over allegations of cheating, and in Pennsylvania, 15 Chinese national students were indicted for cheating on the SATs. So now celebrities, ultra-wealthy Americans, and now international students have been caught in the cheating scandal as they try to get their mediocre children into prestigious American colleges.

Chinese families put lots of pressure on their children to get into top colleges. Because many families have just one child, some will do whatever it takes to improve their children’s chances of getting in. Paying someone to pose as their child for the TOEFL and SAT/ACT or paying to get copies of real exams beforehand is considered a gray area. Surprisingly, not all of these Chinese families are wealthy; some make incredible sacrifices to pay for services to get their children into elite American colleges.

One Chinese student paid someone to take his TOEFL, and got into Purdue University. When he arrived in the United States, he paid someone to take all of his classes for 4 years. With his excellent grades, he got into Columbia University for grad school. And, of course, he paid someone to take his classes at Columbia.  This student spent over $1 million on his undergraduate and graduate degrees – and didn’t learn a thing.

This seems ridiculous on so many levels. That Chinese student with a graduate degree from Columbia will never land a job in his claimed area of expertise.  How could he possibly expect that his $1 million education façade will keep him employed when he doesn’t have the knowledge, skills, or experience to do the job? Imagine the guilt he carries as he lives a lie?

Rather than cheat their way into college, these international (and domestic) students could better spend their money on learning the skills and doing a project.  They need to learn the skills to be successful in college classes and future careers.  And, by doing a project, they can explore their passions by developing apps, engineering devices, writing books, starting non-profit organizations, and more. Colleges will recognize their innovative spirit and they’ll get accepted based on their own merit.  Now, that’s a refreshing concept!