For the 300,000 plus Chinese students currently studying in the United States, perhaps the most important lesson they need to learn comes under the heading of "academic integrity." Work hard. Don't cheat. Otherwise, the consequences are too bitter to swallow.
On April 19, US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David J. Hickton announced that a Chinese woman had been sentenced to six months home detention on her conviction of conspiracy in relation to a scheme involving the fraudulent taking of college entrance exams last year so she could attend Virginia Tech.
According to court documents, 22-year-old Yue Zou, of Blacksburg, Virginia, paid two individuals to take the SAT and TOEFL examinations in her name. Using counterfeit passports containing Zou's personal information and photograph, the two test-takers earned good scores on the exams. Zou then used the scores to apply to Virginia Tech and was accepted. She pleaded guilty in October to her role in the fraud.
Legally residing in the US on a green card, Zou was one of 15 people indicted in the conspiracy. Most of the fraudulent exams were taken in Pennsylvania, prosecutors said. Virginia Tech has expelled Zou, and immigration officials have notified her that she faces deportation.
In her ruling on Tuesday in Pittsburg, US District Judge Joy Flowers Conti said that Zou's sentence reflected the seriousness of the offense in that it allowed people who otherwise would not have been eligible to enter the US to enter and also brought unfairness to the American education system.
During the 2014-15 academic year, there were approximately 304,040 Chinese students studying in the US, according to a recent report by the Institute of International Education (IIE). Already the most visible international presence at many campuses across the United States, Chinese students for six consecutive years have outnumbered international students of other places of origin, said IIE.
Of the 974,000 international students now in the US, almost one in three is from China, the IIE says.
One of the most remarkable factors in the Chinese student population in the US is the growth of its undergraduate segment, and drop in the graduate portion. In the 2013-14 school year, among the 270,000 Chinese students, the undergraduates made up 40 percent of the whole populations while the graduates 42 percent. By 2015, undergraduate Chinese students accounted for 41 percent, compared with 39.6 percent for graduate students. Many experts attributed the shift to China's rising middle-class families and their enthusiasm of the excellence of American education.
"It's a widely-accepted concept that the best education only exists in the US," said Li Zhang, associate professor at San Joaquin Delta College in California.
The vast majority of the 304,040 Chinese students enrolled in US colleges earned their admissions through hard work and legitimate channels. They needed to prepare for the SAT, GRE, TOEFL or GMAT standardized tests, just like their American counterparts, by attending tutoring services and taking numerous mock tests. Many parents paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to hire tutors and instructors to help hone the test-taking skills of their children, and would sacrifice family entertainment time for test score-boosting drills of their children.
"I remembered vividly that my daughter would stay up late into the early morning hours to work on her GRE and SAT preparations," said Herald Chang, a physician in China whose daughter was admitted to the University of California, Santa Barbara this fall. "I always encouraged her to achieve her dream, and emphasized many times the importance of honesty and integrity along the way."
After Zou's fraud became known to the public, the College Board, which administers the SAT exam, announced that it canceled the January SAT exam at 45 test sites on the Chinese mainland and Macau over security concerns.
Spokesman Zachary Goldberg said the College Board routinely monitors the sites in China. "We are aware of the schemes," he said. "We don't know how widespread they are. But we are constantly tweaking our security to make sure we can deliver valid test results that members of the higher-education community can depend on."
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