May 4, 2017
In October 2016, Reuters published a series of investigative journalism pieces questioning the integrity of Chinese admission service company, Dipont. One of these articles, titled “Getting In: How a Chinese company bought access to admissions officers at top U.S. colleges,” described how Dipont would offer admissions counselors either “business-class airfare, or economy-class travel plus a cash ‘honorarium,”’ to attend their eightday admissions workshop program in Shanghai.
Admissions counselors from colleges including Swarthmore College, University of California, Berkeley, University of Virginia, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University, Carlton College, Colgate University, Indiana University, Pomona College and Vanderbilt University accepted the business airfare. Hamilton College, along with Carleton College, Lafayette College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Tulane University and the University of Vermont, confirmed that an admissions officer accepted the honorarium. Of those, the admissions officers from Hamilton, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and University of Vermont stated that they attended the workshops on their personal vacation time.
When traveling within the United States, admission counselors are allowed to accept travel expenses, but not cash. There is no such law regulating international recruitment however. The admissions officer who attended the Dipont program in July of 2015 left Hamilton of her own accord for a job at a larger university in January of 2016, before the articles came out. Their successor, Chris Flores, assumed the role as Director of International Recruitment in June of 2016.
Flores responded, “It was… an educational company that was founded out of [China] … and they would often times invite individuals who were in positions like myself or [those at] other institutions to go and talk to students and conduct workshops. I often do workshops and presentations without charge … I do presentations all the time, but they have very little to do with Hamilton. They’re usually about the college search process in the United States, and then at the end I usually talk a little bit about Hamilton. But… I think a lot of individuals like myself who do international recruitment are focused on making sure that we’re getting students the information that they want to know because it’s so completely different. Most countries, when they hear about the U.S. education system, they’re like ‘that’s so different; I’m going to go to school and only study biology for four years or three years.’ That’s what they’re used to. They’re not used to hearing about a curriculum like ours. So [we’re] explaining those different things, but those [presentations] are the extent, and I’ve never been paid for a service like that. We use our own funding to get to and from those places. I think that this … sounded like a unique opportunity for us at the time and I think not only ourselves, so many of our counterparts felt that way and it was never with the intention to compromise us in any way. But the articles unfortunately shed a light that’s only one sided.”
In regards to his predecessor’s actions, Flores highlighted that the officer visited on their own vacation time. Flores explained, “What we do in our vacation time is really that.”
Still Flores confirmed that the Hamilton admissions office would be more cautious moving forward. Flores stated, “I think it goes with out saying that we will definitely avoid this type of thing in the future. Personally, I know that as long as I’m here, something like that would not happen… I firmly believe in the fact that we’re providing a service for people. It just seemed like a unique opportunity. To be honest, I don’t know how I would have reacted to an opportunity like that. It’s hard to explain because if it’s pitched to you in a certain way, you might not see a problem with that, and I think that’s something we have to keep in mind. But I know for a fact that that’s something we don’t have to worry about in the future. And we didn’t receive anything [like] emails from guidance counselors or anything like that. I think in our profession, they understood where a lot of us came from. It was a discussion for a while… but it wasn’t something that has hurt us at all in any way. We are still doing very well in terms of applications abroad.”
Dipont has closed its program as it is currently under investigation for the way in which it has handled its finances, including its close ties to New York non-profit Council for American Culture and Education Inc. (CACE). Dipont founder Benson Zhang used money from CACE to make a personal donation of $750,000 to a University of Southern California’s research center that is addressing fraud in Chinese applications to American institutions and then paid back the money to CACE later. The transactions are currently being reviewed.