Tell the truth: When you were filling out your NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket, were there some colleges that you’ve never heard of? If someone mumbled the names “University of NorthWest” or “Madison University,” would you assume that you were hearing “Northwestern University” or “James Madison University”?
Fake universities have been passing off sound-alike names and pretend degrees in so-called diploma mills for years. But two recent cases illustrate a relatively new problem: visa mills, or sham colleges established to provide student visas to foreign nationals.
The founder of Tri-Valley University — a fake university in Pleasanton, Calif., created to provide student visas for foreign nationals in the U.S. — was recently convicted of 31 counts of fraud and related crimes. And the chief executive of Herguan University in Sunnyvale, Calif., another fake university providing visas to non-U.S. citizens, is set to go to trial in July to face federal fraud charges.
In the Tri-Valley case, Susan Su, was convicted of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, money laundering, and alien harboring. She raked in about $5.5 million in less than two years. Jerry Wang, the chief executive of Herguan University, is also accused of making millions by running a fraud school to provide student visas to overseas students.
The U.S. General Accountability Office has cited the Tri-Valley case as what could be just the tip of the iceberg for problems with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s student and exchange visitor program.
In another case cited by the GAO, last year, school officials at the College Prep Academy English language school in Duluth, Ga., were indicted on charges of conspiring to bring illegal aliens into the U.S. and issuing fraudulent immigration documents. They allegedly charged thousands of dollars in tuition payments to issue the student visas. The school’s president, Dong Seok Yi, was accused of conspiring with bar owners to enroll females in the school who would not attend classes, but work as prostitutes in the bars.
Here are just 10 of the more traditional diploma mills and non-accredited universities in the U.S. (none of which will appear in an NCAA basketball tournament), according to extensive lists provided as a public service by the Oregon Student Access Commission and the Maine Department of Education:
Advanced Learning Network: Operates in Vermont, but does not have authority from the state to grant degrees. Itppears to be a conduit for converting nonacademic work to academic credits. Its website, www.advance-learning.net, has been taken down.
Alberdeen University: Not licensed and sometimes goes by “Aberdeen.” Also not to be confused with the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, which was founded in 1495.
Cal Southern University: Not a California school and not related to the legitimate California Southern University. It’s registered in the South Pacific Island of Niue.
Ivory Carlson University: A degree mill operating without approval, apparently based in India. Its former website borrowed entire sections, word-for-word, of the legitimate Auburn University's vision statement and mission statement.
Madison University: Also makes the unapproved list for the Mississippi Commission on College Accreditation. Not to be confused with the legitimate James Madison University or the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Preston University: Apparently owned and operated from Pakistan. In a 2012 complaint requesting that the university's application to operate in California be denied, the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education in California's Department of Consumer Affairs stated that Preston had been issued cease and desist orders in Wyoming and Alabama.
Queens University of Brighton: The university's website, www.qubedu.org, is rife with spelling and grammar mistakes and apparently hasn't been updated for several years. It features a 2008-2009 prospectus.
Richardson University: Also known at one time as Hamilton University. The school's website at www.richardsonuniversity.us has been taken down.
University of Metaphysical Sciences: Operated illegally and unlicensed in New Mexico. Ironically, the university's website states that the school will not accept credits earned at other colleges.
The University of NorthWest: Actively sold invalid degrees in Afghanistan as of the summer of 2010, according to the Oregon commission. Its website lists campuses in nations including Canada, China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
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