Colleges Paying Sketchy Agents To Recruit Rich Foreign Students

With schools looking for ways to bolster their bottom lines without having to rely on federal funding, a growing number of colleges are paying recruiters to bring in well-heeled students from overseas — even though some of these agents have been caught trying to fake applicants’ transcripts.

It’s illegal for colleges to pay per-student commissions for recruiting agents if those students get federal financial aid. But this sort of arrangement is perfectly legal if an agent is rewarded for attracting foreign students who aren’t eligible for that aid.

The Wall Street Journal reports that an estimated 1-in-4 colleges now pay independent overseas recruiters to identify and woo applicants.

Wichita State University in Kansas pays up to $1,600 per enrolled student to these agents. As a result, it has seen foreign student applications shoot up “precipitously” since 2013.

And while it might make sense both financially for schools to target international students who often pay higher tuition, critics say the independent recruiting system is rife with fraud and other problems.

Wichita State acknowledges that it had to cut ties with an agent it suspected of faking transcripts. The school rejected those applicants but continues to use agents.

Dickinson State University in North Dakota stopped using agents after it was sanctioned by its accrediting body. An audit of the school found that agent-recruited students weren’t fulfilling graduation requirements.

It’s not just schools that are hiring agents. A large number of students in China looking to attend U.S. schools also hire these same recruiters. That means the agents may be getting paid twice for doing one job.

A U.C. Berkeley student from China tells the Journal that his family paid around $30,000 to have an agent redo his application essay. He says he was told that “no one knows about the whole application process better than they do so I had no choice.”

A student at NYU, the school with the highest percentage of international students in the U.S., admits to paying $26,000 to have her essay ghostwritten. The story told in her essay — about her father reforming his life after being dragged out of a gambling den — didn’t actually happen to her.

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