John E. Little, CFE, CPA
The recent news of wealthy business executives and celebrities paying large sums to gain access to prominent colleges and universities for their children’s education has outraged us all. Unfortunately, academic fraud of this type, and others used to gain admittance or enhance standing, is nothing new. In 2008, Cavya Chandra was denied admission to her dream school, Cornell University. She then falsified letters of recommendation to gain entry to Carnegie Mellon, but later transferred into Cornell University using fraudulent transcripts and falsified letters of recommendation. Cornell became aware of her fraud when she submitted her transcripts to the medical school application processing service, AMCAS, who picked up on the phony documents. Cornell expelled her, but she yet again repeated her fraud at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her IUPUI degree was rescinded once the federal charges came to light.
She pleaded guilty to one count of federal student loan fraud because of the financial aid she had been awarded while at Cornell and was sentenced to five years of probation. In a recent series of interviews with Cavya, she indicated that her motivation came from a strong family drive towards success, stating, “It was rooted in my ability to succeed in school; it was lot of pressure to put on myself.”
Not all admissions frauds are of this caliber. In December of 2018, the New York Times reported that a student was admitted to the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania after writing a moving personal statement about the death of his mother. When admissions officers called his home before the start of the semester, his mother, very much alive, answered the phone. His acceptance was rescinded.
Academic fraud is nothing new, but how do we stop it? Or at least deter it? The principles are the same as what we as fraud examiners apply to deter fraud in general practice. There must be:
Clear guidance set forth in written policies and procedures within an organization
Proper internal controls that provide a network of checks and balances
Monitoring activities in place, checking to see if policies are being followed and internal controls are effective
A hotline should available to facilitate the reporting of suspected abuse
Accountability and consequences through the prosecution of offenders to the fullest extent the law provides.
Researchers at the SC Johnson College of Business continue researching these types of frauds. Watch for an in-depth publication later this academic year which will outline specific steps universities must take, along with improvements to their systems they might consider, to fight these types of academic fraud.
John E. “Jack” Little, CFE, CPA, is a Professor of Practice in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University, Ithaca New York and a local practitioner. His email address is email@example.com.
Grace M. Kaiser is a graduate accounting student in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. She will begin her career at the NYC office of EY in the fall of 2019. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.