On November 3, 2014, the founder and president of an online university, Tri-Valley University, catering to students from South Asia was found guilty of a student visa fraud scheme and sentenced to 16 years in federal prison and ordered to repay $5.6 million in gains and $904,000 in restitution. The founder of the university submitted false documents to obtain certification to issue an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Status and issued fraudulent transcripts to students. Tri-Valley University is the latest in a series of universities in the United States that have been investigated by U.S. Government Authorities.
The problem of unaccredited universities and diploma mills is a worldwide problem. In this age of online learning, modern printing technologies, and rising education costs, it has never been easier or more tempting to obtain a fraudulent university degree. According to the Guardian newspaper, there are twice as many fraudulent universities as real ones in the United Kingdom (http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/jul/18/degree-fraud-hedd-checking-service).
Obtaining a degree from the United States can lead to a better job and a higher salary. However, it is important to ensure that it is a truly an accredited university and not a diploma mill. Obtaining a visa, entering and residing in the United States is expensive and time consuming. If the student has their visa revoked, it is a permanent mark on their record and will impede their ability of obtaining a visa to the United States in the future. It is necessary to look beyond the ability to issue an I-20 to other factors to verify whether it is an accredited University.
What should prospective students do prior to enrolling in an overseas university?
Reputation – Prestigious and well known universities are less likely to be investigated than unknown universities. The United States dominate the world’s best universities rankings and has a large number of internationally recognized learning institutions. However, it is important to be aware that many fraudulent universities use names that are similar to prestigious universities to create confusion among potential students.
U.S. Department of Education Accreditation – The ability to issue I-20 is not the same as being accredited by the U.S. Department Education. The U.S. Department of Education requires the learning institution to meet academic standards in order to be accredited. Academic accreditation by the U.S. Department of Education is a three stage process plus continued monitoring to ensure that the institution meets required educational standards for a traditional university.
Review the University’s Credentials – It is important to verify the accuracy of the information on the learning institution’s website. Students should also review the qualifications of the teaching faculty against the internet. The potential student should search for actual reviews of the University and not public relations materials. If there are alumni groups for the university, the student should contact the group and individual alumnus to gauge their educational experience.
Physical Inspection of the University – Prior to selecting a school, the prospective student should take a tour of the University. Many fraudulent universities have their schools in a few offices of a building. It may be difficult for a prospective student to come to the United States but if they are serious about the school, they should ask friends, family, or other acquaintances if they can visit the school to verify the facilities such as classrooms, libraries, offices, and campus.
There are many fraudulent universities that have nice websites and official sounding names that are similar to actual prestigious universities. They will issue fake diplomas or unrecognized unaccredited degrees. They are around to scam money out of people. Prior to selecting a university, the student should investigate the institution and its accreditation. A little bit of time for investigation will help protect the student from being scammed.