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Chinese Company’s Connection to US Universities Raises Questions


Chinese students gather on a field as they attend the opening ceremony of an international high school in China's Tianjin Municipality. There is growing demand from Chinese parents seeking different paths for their children to college abroad.

A Chinese education company has given thousands of dollars to representatives of top universities in the United States.

Reuters news agency says the money was for services to help Chinese students apply to these schools. Reuters suggests the company did more than help the students.

In October, Reuters reported on claims of cheating by eight former employees of Dipont Education Management Group. The company is based in Shanghai.

Six of the former employees say they wrote application essays for students. Almost all universities in the U.S. require students to prepare their own application materials.

Another former employee of Dipont told Reuters she changed letters of recommendation teachers had written for students. And another said the company let a student remove bad marks from the records of his academic performance in high school.

Dipont released a response 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. This includes 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 success in applying for college.

Dipont paid for the travel costs of the admissions officers attending the event, Reuters said. Reuters also said emails it reviewed 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.

There is a lot of competition among both students and universities. Schools look to international students to help increase income from tuition payments. Hundreds of Chinese companies are offering 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 incidents of cheating on college application materials from 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 incidents of 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 added that problems with one or two employees do not mean there are problems with the entire company. He said he recently gave $750,000 to a University of Southern California (USC) research center. The research center in Los Angeles, California is meant to fight college application fraud in China.

But there are concerns about this 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 has said it will review the non-profit group. That could lead to an investigation if it appears that New York law was violated.

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. He wrote that Dipont was one of the companies most 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 since 2014. The gatherings are held in Shanghai.

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 U.S. admissions officers are able to 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 now.

I’m Jill Robbins.

And I’m Pete Musto.

Steve Stecklow, Renee Dudley, James Pomfret and Alexandra Harney reported this story for the Reuters news service. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

We want to hear from you. How common is cheating in your country? Do companies offer services to help students apply to U.S. universities? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

applyv. to ask formally for something, such as a job, admission to a school or a loan, usually in writing

essay(s) – n. a short piece of writing that tells a person's thoughts or opinions about a subject

letter(s) of recommendationn. a formal letter that explains why a person is appropriate or qualified for a particular job or school

academicadj. of or relating to schools and education

tuitionn. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there

fraudn. the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person

Inc(orporated) – adj. formed into a large, legal business or organization that under the law in the U.S. has the rights and duties of an individual and follows a specific purpose

reviewv. to look at or examine something carefully especially before making a decision or judgment

improperadj. not following rules of acceptable behavior

recruit(ing) – v. to find suitable people and get them to join a school, company, organization or the armed forces

counsel(ing) – v. to listen to and give support or advice to someone especially as a job

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