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Archive for Friday, February 10, 2012

Audit: North Dakota university awarded unearned degrees

February 10, 2012

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— Facing pressure to bring in more students as North Dakota’s booming oil industry made it tougher to coax new high school graduates into college, Dickinson State University began looking overseas to boost its enrollment.

China, which sends more students to U.S. universities than any other nation, became one of the school’s more reliable suppliers of young people.

But as an audit made public Friday revealed, lax recordkeeping and oversight resulted in hundreds of degrees being awarded to students who didn’t finish their course work. Others enrolled who couldn’t speak English or hadn’t achieved the “C’’ average normally required for admission.

The report depicts Dickinson State as a diploma mill for foreign students, most of whom were Chinese. Of 410 foreign students who have received four-year degrees since 2003 — most of them in the past four years — 400 did not fulfill all the graduation requirements, it said.

The report raises questions about whether public universities, strapped for cash at a time of sharply declining state support for higher education, are cutting corners to attract foreign students who typically pay full out-of-state tuition. It also comes amid an unprecedented boom in the number of Chinese students studying at U.S. universities.

Dickinson State could face penalties from the U.S. State Department for violations of the federal student visa program, as well as sanctions from the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security and the Higher Learning Commission in Chicago, an accreditation agency, the report said.

William Goetz, chancellor of the North Dakota university system, and Dickinson State’s new president, D.C. Coston, did not respond to emails and phone calls from The Associated Press. They held a news conference Friday in Dickinson to present the audit’s findings.

“We will be telling (the affected students) that their records do not indicate they sufficiently completed the requirements,” Coston said at the news conference. “Dickinson State stands ready to work with them individually to figure out what might be necessary for them to reach a point of completion.”

Coston also held a meeting with students that was interrupted by a university lockdown after a professor was reported missing with a gun. Doug LaPlante, 59, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound Friday afternoon near a Dickinson intersection, police said.

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