A growing number of parents have now been convicted and sentenced in the U.S. college cheating scandal. But does that mean that all the cheaters have been caught, all the scams have been uncovered, and the problem is on its way to being solved?

It would be both illogical and incorrect to think so. So many varieties of small-level cheating take place every day, everywhere, in situations like these:

  • A high school physics teacher writes a formula on his classroom’s whiteboard and tells his students to enter it into their graphing calculators’ memories. He tells them, “remember it’s there, it will help you solve some calculus problems you will find on standardized tests.” Is that cheating?
  • A guidance counselor who is reviewing a counselee’s folder finds four extremely positive letters of recommendation . . . and another one that is lukewarm. So he gets rid of that letter. Again, how dishonest is he being?
  • A high school math teacher decides to alter a record to hide the fact that one of her students dropped out of AP Algebra halfway through the school year and enrolled in regular Algebra instead. She feels that fact will reflect badly on her student, so she makes a small modification in the record so the change will not show.
  • A high school soccer coach who is writing a letter of recommendation for one of her players exaggerates how good that player is. Why? Because she really likes the student and would like to help her get admitted to the college she wants to attend. Is the coach simply being kind to a student, or cheating? What do you think?
  • Parents spend more than $4,000 to pay for a math tutor for their son. Other students’ families are unable to pay that much for tutoring. Is this cheating?
  • A high school student states on a college application that she is bilingual in French and English, even though she really isn’t. One of her parents was born in France and the daughter understands some spoken French. But is the student bilingual? Hardly. Is this too cheating?
  • The parents of a piano student contribute $5,000 to a local music foundation that hosts an annual piano competition. That year, their daughter wins the competition, even though most people feel that two other students are better pianists. Did those parents bribe the foundation to give their daughter top prize? Nobody could prove that, but it looks like cheating. Is there anything that can or should be done to correct this outcome?

“Lost in Translation” Practices in the Admission of Foreign Students

Other countries are chock full of honest, ambitious students who want to attend college in America. But applications that contain manipulated and false information are often filed by some foreign students. And those applications sometimes get students admitted to U.S. colleges, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the grades a foreign student earned while in high school are difficult for a U.S. college admissions officer to understand. Sometimes someone at a foreign high school incorrectly “translates” and inflates a student’s grades on the transcript that is sent to American colleges.

Then we have to address the reality that in some parts of the world, ambitious parents believe that a certain amount of cheating to help their children get into U.S. colleges is just part of the way it is done, and that there is nothing wrong with it.

One example? Back in 2010, a Chinese educational research firm, Zinch China, found that 90% of all letters of recommendation sent to U.S. colleges by Chinese students were fakes. Also, 50% of all grade transcripts were falsified. This data was widely reported by ABC News and elsewhere at the time. One of the most common dishonest practices was that nearly all admissions essays submitted by well-to-do Chinese students had been professionally rewritten or written in perfect American English and were completely error-free.

Are There Solutions to this Problem?

As a teacher, guidance counselor or parent, you are responsible for encouraging students to adhere to the highest ethical standards when applying to college. As a college admissions officer, you have probably already developed a keen sense of when you are looking at student documents that have been honestly prepared, and those that have not.

But what should you do, both situationally and globally? It’s a day-to-day process, with daily decisions to be made. How are you managing to do it?

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