Are Students Protected?

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Are Students Protected? An In-depth Look Into Overseas Education Advisory Services is a research report issued earlier this year by the Consumer Council of Hong Kong. It examines Hong Kong-based agents and educational consultants who recruit and advise students interested in studying abroad.

The report identifies a number of issues, including:

  • “service providers would not readily disclose pricing information”
  • “it was clear that the service providers would not transparently disclose the relationship they had with the recommended overseas education institutions”
  • “practices of aggressive selling, bundled selling and poor quality services”

Such findings suggest an answer to the rhetorical question posed by the report’s title.

It concludes with recommendations for practitioners as well as the Hong Kong government. You can access the full report via the Consumer Council website, here.

An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment

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Late this past October University World News published An ethical approach to commissions-based recruitment, an article I co-authored with Mark Ashwill, Co-Founder & Managing Director of Capstone Vietnam.

Mark and I address the practice of educational institutions paying per-capita commissions for the recruitment and enrollment of international students. We also propose a more student-centered advising model.

I’ll have much more to say on this subject in 2019. In the meantime I hope you’ll have a read.

International Students Sue Northwestern Polytechnic University

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Former students of Fremont, California-based Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) have brought a class action lawsuit against the school, alleging “fraud, deceit and/or misrepresentation” concerning its accreditation.

Since 1998 NPU has been accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), a controversial organization accused of lax oversight of troubled for-profit institutions. In late 2016 the U.S. Department of Education revoked ACICS’ authorization as a federally recognized accreditor. However, the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has since restored ACICS’ recognition, with further review pending.

ACICS’s future is anything but certain. According to its member directory, Northwestern Polytechnic University is accredited until December 31st, 2018. In a message posted on its web site, NPU President Peter Hsieh shared that the university has been deemed eligible to apply for Candidacy and Initial Accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. So it appears that an attempt to earn WASC accreditation is NPU’s back-up plan in case ACICS decides to terminate NPU’s accreditation, as it did in the case of Silicon Valley University, or in case ACICS itself once again loses federal authorization as an accreditor.

The students’ lawsuit alleges that NPU willfully concealed the risk it would lose its accreditation due to ACICS’ troubles, and the consequent possibility NPU students would be rendered ineligible to engage in a full 3 years of STEM-related Optional Practical Training (OPT). More than most universities, NPU attracts students by the promise of the OPT pathway. Between 2004 and 2016, more NPU graduates took part in OPT than did graduates of Harvard.

The plaintiffs are Indian students Rohit Kalakanti, Prashant Dhanani, and Manikanta Aravind Cheepi, previously of Hyderabad, Surat, and Vijayawada, respectively. Kalakanti, who first brought the suit, learned that NPU had lost its accreditation in December 2016, and in the months that followed “learned that he was ineligible for the STEM extension” of OPT because of NPU’s loss of accreditation.

The students have engaged the law firm Gutride Safier LLP to litigate the class action. The attorneys state that they “will seek to require NPU to provide refunds to students of tuition, fees, costs and any additional damages required to enroll at another university.” It goes on to say that if NPU is successful in regaining accreditation, “we will seek to require it to permit students to transfer their credits towards a new accredited degree.”

Affected students who wish to join the class action lawsuit are invited to e-mail the firm at npu@gutridesafier.com

For more on NPU see this superb 2016 BuzzFeed investigation, describing how the university “faked students’ scores, skated by immigration authorities – and made a fortune in the process.”

University of Texas at Tyler Revokes Full-Ride Scholarships for Nepali Students

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The University of Texas at Tyler has upended the plans of an estimated 40 or more Nepali students to whom they’d previously pledged full-ride scholarships, by unexpectedly revoking the awards. Late last year the Dallas area-university, 1 of 14 institutions that comprise the University of Texas system, notified students that they had been granted Presidential Fellow scholarships, which were designated to cover most of students’ expenses, as the President explained in a congratulatory e-mail:

“This means our university and hopefully your new home for the next four years is taking care of your tuition, fees, housing, meal plan, and books! Yes, I’m serious!”

But apparently they weren’t too serious.

Because on April 13th students received a very different message, explaining that the university’s “scholarship requests exceeded the amount budgeted for this year” and that as a result, “we will not be able to offer you the Presidential Fellows scholarship.” The students were instead offered a “Patriot Scholarship”, a $5,000 annual award renewable to cover all 4 years, and the in state resident tuition rate, much cheaper than the going rate for international students. The message ended with the university apologizing “for any inconvenience”.

To put this change in students’ fortunes into some perspective, the university estimates total 2018-2019 academic year expenses for Texas residents who live on-campus at $21,730. Now, with the $5,000 scholarship promised instead of a full-ride, the students would have to come up with an additional $17,000 to finance their 1st year of undergraduate education at UT Tyler, and presumably as much in each subsequent year.

The original scholarship notification announcement included the caveat that funds were limited and that the scholarships were awarded on a “first come, first-served” basis. Students were prompted to “confirm your attendance today.” However reports suggest that many of the students whose offers were revoked had in fact paid scholarship confirmation fees to secure their award.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the “2018-19 merit-based scholarships are the most ever awarded to freshmen by the university”, but that is likely no solace to those whose awards were revoked. Other local media have picked up on the story, while affected students have taken to social media to plead their case.

Meanwhile, the Department of State-supported United States Education Foundation in Nepal is attempting to provide support. Those looking to help are encouraged to contact Ms. Selena Malla, Educational Adviser, by e-mailing adviserusef@fulbrightnepal.org.np

Silicon Valley University Suddenly Shut Down

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On April 5th, San Jose-based Silicon Valley University was informed by a state regulator that it can “no longer operate in California”, according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The action taken by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education’s Department of Consumer Affairs is the latest in a series of bad news for Silicon Valley University:

December 7, 2017   The university’s accreditor – the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)[1]revoked Silicon Valley University’s accreditation.

December 27, 2017   With the support of the California state Department of Justice, the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education filed a complaint against the university, detailing 15 separate causes for discipline, relating to alleged violations of state regulations.

March 22, 2018   U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in which Silicon Valley University is characterized as a “suspect school” and potentially a “visa mill”. Grassley concluded with a long list of questions for DHS[2], an attempt to persuade the department to crack down on dubious schools like Silicon Valley University.

This is not the first time the university has been embroiled in controversy. Along with Northwestern Polytechnic University, a comparably suspect institution, Silicon Valley University earned notoriety in 2015 when a number of its admitted students were denied entry to the U.S. despite having obtained valid Visas. The Times of India did not hold back in its criticism at the time, stating that even “a cursory tour of the institutions and interviews with students points to a massive academic rip-off“.

According to last week’s San Francisco Chronicle article, Silicon Valley University is now required to come up with a closure plan, provide “students a list of schools they might transfer to, and refund their money within 45 days.” One has to wonder whether the university will have students’ best interests in mind during the closure process.

A message on the university home page acknowledges that it has been instructed “not to conduct any classes or exams at this time, effective immediately.” It goes on to state that this “is a developing situation and we will update you next week.” Students are also directed to contact the Student Office for further information.

Yet peculiarly enough, the contact e-mail address for the Student Office is that same as that for the university’s “International Consultant in Taiwan”: StudentOffice@svuca.edu

By consultant we can guess that means the university’s commissions-based international student recruitment agent. Assuming this is the same agent who steered many students to Silicon Valley University in the first place, students should think twice before reaching out, lest they find themselves pushed toward another school at risk of forced closure.

 

[1] ACICS itself is the subject of recent controversy. In December 2016 the U.S. Department of Education terminated ACICS’ recognition as an approved accreditor. Earlier this month the Department of Education, under the new U.S. Administration, restored ACICS’ recognition.

[2] DHS is responsible for the authorization of U.S. colleges and universities to issue the Form I-20 international students need to obtain and maintain an F-1 Student Visa.

 

Co-ops in Canada

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Want to gain real world work experience while pursuing your undergraduate degree? Then consider heading to Canada, and opting for a co-op.

Co-ops are programs that alternate periods of academic study with periods of work experience in business, industry, government, social services, and the professions. Think of a co-op as a paid, substantive internship you complete during your degree studies. How cool is that? Very!

It’s true that many American universities make internship opportunities available to undergraduates. Some, such as Northeastern University, are even quite committed to the co-op model. But few U.S. schools can match their Canadian counterparts as to just how seamlessly co-ops are integrated into the heart of the bachelor degree experience. More than 50 Canadian universities, and over 20 colleges, provide co-op opportunities to their students.

The University of Waterloo is a Canadian leader in co-op education. UW operates the largest co-op program in the world, with nearly 20,000 of its students participating annually

Here are the defining features of the co-op experience, according to the Canadian Association For Co-Operative Education (CAFCE)

  1. Each work term is developed in partnership with the employer and approved by the co-operative education program as a suitable learning environment
  2. The student is engaged in productive work for which the student receives remuneration
  3. The co-op curriculum supports student learning goals, personal evaluation and reflection
  4. The student’s performance in the workplace is supervised and evaluated by the student’s employer
  5. The student’s progress during their work term is monitored by the co-operative education program
  6. Both work and academic terms are full-time and follow a formalized sequence.  The total amount of co-op work experience is normally at least 30% of the time spent in academic study.  For programs of two years or less the total amount may be a minimum of 25%.  A work term is defined as a minimum of 12 weeks and/or 420 hours full-time paid experience
  7. Co-op Programs begin and end on an academic term
  8. The student completing multiple work terms is normally exposed to the work environment during more than one season of the year.

Co-op allows you to get up to two years of relevant work experience while an undergraduate. Taking part in a co-op will extend the length of your bachelor’s degree program. But because most co-ops are paid, students who take part consider it a sound investment, both educationally and financially. Weekly earnings vary by placement and field, and can range from $400 to $2,000 Canadian Dollars.

For more information check out the useful Co-op Directory maintained by CAFCE, which allows you to search accredited programs by university.

 

Have a Pell Grant? Apply to earn a Gilman Scholarship to study abroad.

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There are lots of ways to study abroad that don’t break the bank. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program is one such way. And it’s a great one.

The Gilman Scholarship Program is funded by the U.S. Department of State, and is open to undergraduate students in the U.S. who are receiving a Federal Pell Grant, or will be when they study or intern abroad. More than 2,500 students earn Gilman scholarships each year. The program prides itself on helping students who otherwise might be unable to study abroad. Last year 46% of Gilman scholarship recipients were first-generation college students.

Awards of up to $5,000 are possible.

Approximately 1 in 4 applicants earn awards, a far higher rate than many other scholarship opportunities.

Check out this Overview to learn more about this excellent opportunity, including how to apply. And hear directly from Gilman scholars in these short and inspiring videos.

Related: Interested in scholarships for overseas study of a foreign language? Learn more about the Critical Language Scholarship Program. And find other study abroad scholarships here.