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According to an audit made public Friday, February 10, 2012, Dickinson State University of North Dakota granted hundreds of degrees to international students who did not earn them. According to Business Week, the audit was requested by the university’s current president, D.C. Coston, after the school’s office of multicultural affairs informed him of improprieties.
The audit shows that out of at least 410 international students awarded degrees since 2003, 400 did not earn the degree. Most of these degrees were awarded in the last four years. Though not mentioned in the audit report, Richard McCallum, Coston’s predecessor, was fired in the fall of 2010 for inflating enrollment totals. McCallum had become the university’s president in 2008 when the number of questionable degrees began to rise.
Several factors have led to the increase in these bogus degrees, including the use of recruiters in China. These recruiters are employed by recruiting firms, but it appears they represented themselves as direct employees of Dickinson State.
According to the Huffington Post, the recruiters even altered Dickinson State business cards to make them their own, with the title “DSU China Center”, and made promises to the students that did not fit the terms of the programs. These recruiters are paid on commission and receive fees from the families as well.
False promises from recruiters were not the only problem. Students were falsifying their own documents as well. They were making their own transcripts and using Chinese university stamps bought online to legitimize them. Other students were transferring from universities not recognized by the program or were lacking the proper documents. Despite these issues, they were still being accepted into the international program at DSU.
Relaxed rules were a part of the problem. Dickinson State began using a test to determine the English proficiency of students that was not considered a good measure, and they ignored two tests that were. According to the report, 21 out of 27 students enrolled this spring could not speak English well enough to meet the requirements. These students were sent home.
There has been no immediate disciplinary action leveled at the Dickinson’s staff, but three have resigned. The resignations include the Registrar, the former Director of Student Recruitment and Enrollment Management, and the Vice President of Academic Affairs. Another, the Dean of Education, Business, and Applied Sciences was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot would. At this time, it is unclear whether his death is tied to the audit report.
What is also unclear is what this means for the future of Dickinson State University or the recipients of the unearned degrees. The university itself could face sanctions from several authorities, including Homeland Security. The students will most likely have their degrees revoked, but will be given the opportunity to truly earn them.
There could also be ramifications in the near future for the international programs at other universities. According to Business Week, the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington, Virginia announced last year that it would be appointing a commission to investigate the issue of the foreign recruiters. This commission will meet for the first time in March of this year. It would appear that Dickinson State could be the tip of the iceberg.