Education agents in Vietnam are taking money upfront with the promise for accessing scholarships to study in the US, and stakeholders in the country are concerned that it will have a lasting detrimental effect on Vietnamese students seeking to study in the US.
“In Vietnam right now, there’s a massive fraud going on with agents,” said Ken Cooper, chairman of Access American Education.
“In Vietnam right now, there’s a massive fraud going on with agents”
Agents are taking a slice of non-merit scholarships – often 20% of the worth of the scholarship – and telling families that only through them, can students access scholarships, he added.
Scholarships can give students a deduction of fees for anything up to US$30,000 – they are little more than discounts, Cooper suggested.
Previously, the I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” forms that students need for their applications had been sent to agents, who would keep them until families paid them.
An update in regulations means that those forms are now sent to students, but agents are now telling families they need to pay upfront fees.
“They’re getting upfront money. $5,000-10,000 upfront from the families in order to get the ‘discount letters’. It’s rampant. It’s massive. Lots of agents are doing it,” he said.
Agencies are now using scholarships as headlines to their marketing campaigns and running scholarship events, he added.
“My guess is that parents and students believe it’s a service they’re paying for,” explained Mark Ashwill, managing director of educational consulting company Capstone Vietnam.
“Perhaps they think the agency has some sort of special influence or connection with the institution, and/or they view it as an “investment,” not knowing that it’s unnecessary,” he said.
“[This is] one of many examples of cheating in a still largely unregulated industry. Educational consulting is still the Wild West in Vietnam and many other countries,” Ashwill contended.
According to Ashwill, smaller agencies are being “rewarded” for the scholarships that “their” students earn from good but not necessarily elite institutions.
Larger agencies are more specialised in helping students gain admission to “highly selective colleges and universities”, with packages that include help with writing essays – in some cases, completing them on behalf of students – and other services, including creating extracurricular activities that their clients can add to their application.
“This is yet another example of the adage ‘success without integrity is failure’,” he said.
“Companies that engage in this unethical practice are probably also taking a fee from the parents and/or a commission from the admitting institution. Think of it as double- or triple-dipping.
“In short, it’s just another way to make money for companies fixated on short-term profit at the expense of ethics.”
Education USA has been a “leader” in telling families they do not have to pay agents, Cooper explained, but the message is not effectively reaching families.
“It’s just another way to make money for companies fixated on short-term profit at the expense of ethics”
“I guess it’s because it’s a rising middle class and the parents just don’t have the knowledge that these are discounts, not scholarships. Now, that being said, there are merit scholarships, but you don’t have to pay for them either. You apply to the school.”
Education USA attends events and fairs in Vietnam, Cooper added.
“I love Education USA for doing that. That’s why I beg them every time I do a fair…I’d rather the government [came to explain] students do not have to pay advance fees to agents to get scholarships.
“You don’t have to pay advance fees to get essays written. You don’t have to pay advances. Come to the American centre and we’ll help you. Go to an AIRC certified agent. They’ll help you,” he said.
US schools must be checking with students to find out whether they paid for scholarships, Cooper warned.
“I hope that schools speak to kids on Skype [and ask] ‘did you pay?’ because that’s the only way the school could be not complicit. They have to take the initiative.
“And by the way, if they get caught on this, they’re [taking] a risk. There’s no doubt if this becomes an issue where a kid says, ‘hey, I paid $10,000 for that scholarship’, they’ve got a problem.”