Cheating plagues high schools and universities across the nation, but the United States is not alone in its penchant for dishonesty. Cheating has become a global epidemic, inflating test scores and hurting the integrity of the college admissions process.
The University of Miami has seen a steady increase in international students. From 2011 to 2016, the number of international students grew at an average rate of 8.7 percent, from 1,728 students to 2, 599, according to College Factual, a website established in 2012 that offers prospective college students information about different universities.
International students account for 14 percent of UM’s 2018 fall freshman class, 15 percent of the total undergraduate student body and 18 percent of the graduate students, according to the university’s 2018-19 “Fact Finder” publication.
And like their counterparts in the United States, international students say cheating on exams and bribes from parents are part of their college admissions reality as well.
Students all over the world walk into their prospective testing centers with answers in hand and no one seems to be alarmed, some of the University of Miami’s international students say.
“Cheating is not a big deal," said a UM Russian international student. "In Russia, when you go to school, you learn how to read, how to write, how to do math, and most importantly, you learn how to cheat.”
However, Russia isn’t the only country where students resort to cheating. From London to Brazil, Nigeria to Venezuela, and Hong Kong to Vietnam, UM’s international students say they are aware that the admissions process for them has its share of loopholes and pitfalls.
Cheating is especially rampant throughout China because many of these students hope to continue their education at American universities, including the University of Miami, students say.
In 2017, College Factual ranked UM 70th out of 1,059 colleges for its popularity among Chinese students.
According to College Factual, there were 937 students from China out of the 2,599 international students at the UM in 2016, and the number of Chinese students enrolled continues to grow each year.
Some Asian international students move to the United States to finish high school and perfect their mastery of the English language. By doing so, they avoid taking the English proficiency exam.
However, for those who cannot uproot their lives, students recall others taking the exam at specific testing centers to ensure high test scores. And that’s where scandal comes in to play.
A common practice includes tutors providing answers to the students as they take the exams.
“When I was a junior in high school taking my SATs, there were two students from mainland China and their parents were known as Tiger parents,” said Louise Jensen, who is from Denmark but grew up in Hong Kong. “They wound up getting into huge trouble for cheating and getting perfect scores because they somehow got the answers for the SAT from one of the teachers who was prepping them for the test in Hong Kong.”
Some students cite immense pressure from their families as the reason behind such widespread cheating. Young people often resort to extreme measures to avoid falling short of their parents' high academic expectations.
“Living in Asia I can understand why they did this," said Jensen, a sophomore public relations and marketing major. "The culture in Asia is very competitive, very dramatic… people would cry if they got B's." Jensen said she's heard stories of fathers beating their children for not receiving grades high enough to meet their parents' expectations.
Not only are students part of the problem, but teachers and school officials are enabling and endorsing this culture of cheating, even partaking in illegal activities themselves.
The freshman student from Russia, who asked to remain anonymous, recalls universities selling finished transcripts to students who want to continue onto college. She often noticed teachers “turning a blind-eye” to cheating, even though they very much knew it was occurring.
However, many students said they believe there is one main factor that gives certain international students an advantage over others: money.
Tram Phuong Nguyen, a senior economics major from Vietnam, said she knows students who have paid up to $15,000 to service companies to have their application perfected.
Nguyen said she believes the amount of scholarship international students request affects admission chances. International students who are qualified students will likely be admitted if they are paying full tuition.
She said she believes she would have been accepted at NYU if she hadn’t asked for financial aid. Nguyen has no scholarships from UM but received a scholarship from the Fulbright Foreign Student Program.
“Whether they worked for it or not, the people who have the most income are the ones who will always get their way,” said a freshman Venezuelan student who is studying in the School of Communication.
"It surprises me, because as a Venezuelan student, it makes me question if it’s about the education and the fact that I worked my butt off to learn or if it’s just a business. Is the university just a business?”
Eli Griswold, Alanna Cooper, Veronica Lucchese and Damaris Zamudio contributed to this reporting.