By Megan Driscoll
A 'Sham University'
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Department of Homeland Security found that Tri-Valley University has the capacity to provide instruction for 30 students. But in the fall of 2010, Tri-Valley enrolled more than 1,500 international students.
Calling the unaccredited Tri-Valley a 'sham university,' the federal government is conducting an investigation into the institution's sudden increase in international enrollment. The feds have accused Tri-Valley of obtaining student visas for foreign citizens who never attended the university in exchange for their 'tuition' dollars. With a semester's tuition of up to $2,700, the federal government estimates that the institution's earnings could have approached $4.2 million in just the fall of 2010.
According to the federal complaint, Tri-Valley's authority to grant the student visas was also obtained under false pretenses. Because the school is unaccredited, Tri-Valley was required to prove that at least three accredited institutions would accept credits from them. But at least two of the articulation agreements have turned out to be falsified.
Furthermore, much of the information Tri-Valley provided to the feds about the foreign students was also false. For example, the university reported that more than half of the international students were living in the same apartment in order to hide the fact that those students weren't actually living in the state of California, where Tri-Valley is located.
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The situation is further complicated by international political tensions. Over 95 percent of the fake foreign students were from India. When the U.S. government began its investigation, Homeland Security brought in several Indian students for questioning. They were all forced to wear radio tracking devices as a condition of their release.
The Indian government has condemned the ankle bracelets as 'inhumane,' suggesting that the Indian students were innocent victims of Tri-Valley. Yet the American investigation has revealed that many of these students benefited from the arrangement in a 'profit-sharing system' that, according to The Chronicle, amounted to a pyramid scheme.
Tri-Valley offered students up to 20 percent of the tuition fees of any new individuals who they referred. These people also received up to 5 percent of the tuition funds of any college recruits that their referred students were able to steer to the school - and so on.
The Indian government, in turn, has questioned why Tri-Valley was even allowed to operate. The investigation comes on the heels of a similar controversy in Australia, where many cosmetology schools and other commercial colleges accepted Indian students who were actually going to the country to work illegally. In Australia, this provoked several incidents of racism against Indian students and a reconsideration of the country's open door policies for international students.
The Tri-Valley issue is also influencing debates in the Indian parliament about a new bill that would allow universities from the U.S. and other countries to open campuses in India. Lawmakers want to know how they can protect themselves and their citizens from 'fly-by-night' institutions.
In fact, education experts around the globe are wondering how we can prevent the internationalization of higher education from becoming another unregulated and perilous commercial market. Without better transparency and closer watch over unaccredited institutions like Tri-Valley, this may only be the beginning of the problem.