Bloomberg News

North Dakota School Awarded Unearned Degrees, State Says

February 12, 2012

(Adds chancellor’s comments in fourth, fifth paragraphs.)

Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Dickinson State University in North Dakota granted hundreds of degrees to Chinese transfer students who didn’t complete the required class work, according to a state report.

The school’s international agreements “are seriously lacking controls and oversight,” according to a review by the North Dakota University System released yesterday. The six violations of university and state policies could jeopardize the school’s accreditation and result in sanctions by the U.S. Education Department and State Department, the report said.

Dickinson’s practices may fuel the growing debate about the recruiting and exploitation of Chinese students increasingly sought by U.S. colleges. About 57,000 Chinese undergraduates attended American colleges in 2010-2011, six times as many as in 2005-2006, according to the Institute of International Education. At public universities, they pay two or three times as much in tuition as in-state students.

William Goetz, chancellor of North Dakota’s university system, told the Associated Press today that no immediate discipline is planned for employees in the wake of the audit.

Goetz wouldn’t speculate on whether the death yesterday of Doug LaPlante, a dean at the university, from an apparent self- inflicted gunshot wound was tied to the report. LaPlante wasn’t mentioned in the audit, though students in the business program he supervised were, AP said.

Required Course Work

Dickinson State auditors analyzed the files of 816 international transfer students since 2003, almost all from China, according to the report. Of the 594 that received a degree, 584 didn’t complete the required course work. The school, in Dickinson, North Dakota, has 15 transfer agreements with international universities, and “only three articulation agreements appear to be valid,” according to the report.

Officials at Dickinson State and the North Dakota State University system didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The review was requested by Dickinson State President D.C. Coston, who was notified of the improprieties by the school’s office of multicultural affairs. Coston was named president in January after his predecessor, Richard McCallum, was fired last year for offenses including inflating enrollment figures.

Students from China pay $12,978 per year in tuition and fees at Dickinson, more than double the $5,608 paid by state residents.

Transcripts Falsified

The scope of unqualified students at Dickinson grew worse after 2008, when the university said several entrance requirements were waived and “the language ability declined.” The college also used recruiting agents in China. While the agents were employed by recruiting firms, they posed as Dickinson State employees, according to the report.

Colleges often rely on agents in China, who are paid on commission and collect fees from the families as well.

A Bloomberg News series last year documented that some agents use incomplete or false information to lure Chinese students to American high schools and colleges.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington, Virginia, announced last July that it would appoint a commission on international-student recruiting to examine issues such as whether agents should be paid based on the number of students they recruit. The commission will hold its inaugural meeting on March 5 in Washington.

Other issues at Dickinson included students falsifying their transcripts using stamps from Chinese universities bought online, transferring from institutions in China not recognized as universities and failing to meet the minimum grade-point average.

--With assistance from Daniel Golden in Boston. Editors: Lisa Wolfson, John Lear, Sylvia Wier

To contact the reporter on this story: Oliver Staley in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at

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