Foreign Students: Status of Two Compromised Colleges and One Wannabe

By David North on September 30, 2019

While most foreign students in the United States get an adequate college education, a minority are exposed to substandard schools, while routinely working in the U.S. economy, a situation we have covered in the past.

Within that context, here we report on recent developments regarding three such troubled schools.

There's a start-up university in Northern Virginia that wants to receive tuition from foreign students, but can't do so. That school, the three-year-old Virginia University of Science and Technology (VUST), in the D.C. suburbs, faces three significant challenges:

  • It has not been accredited by an organization recognized by the federal Department of Education;
  • The regulators in the State of Virginia have voted to start the process of revocation of its temporary license to operate; and
  • It is barred from accepting foreign students on F (academic) or M (vocational) visas.

More specifically, it is in the process of seeking accreditation from the not-particularly-strict Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, whose own accreditation powers were about to be eliminated until ACICS was rescued by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a supporter of for-profit educational institutions. Accreditation is, routinely, a long procedure, and VUST has not passed the first hurdle, getting "candidate" status from ACICS.

Even more pressing is the vote of the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) last week, telling the staff to continue with the license revocation process for VUST. That vote was not the last time that the Council will consider revocation, but it is not a good sign for the university.

SCHEV, one of the more rigorous state regulators of non-public institutions of higher education, has followed the procedure now underway with VUST to kill the licenses of two visa mills in the past, both in the D.C. suburbs, as we reported at the time. They were the American College of Commerce and Technology in 2017 and the University of Northern Virginia in 2013.

The current audit of VUST found 22 violations, including several repeated ones. A sampling follows (all emphases are in the original):

Violation 1. VUST arbitrarily waives three 2-credit courses required for a master's degree for work experience although the school catalog reflects VUST does not award credit for prior learning or work experience.

Violation 2. (REPEAT VIOLATION) Admission records for four students indicate they were enrolled in a master's level program without having a baccalaureate degree.

Violation 3. Student catalog does not contain all required items and contains discrepancies in credit hour requirements.

Violation 4. Student catalog contains conflicting financial information.

Violation 5. The VUST catalog contains misleading information. VUST refers to itself as having "the best Master Program of Cybersecurity". It also states "VUST's graduate students will have unbeatable advantages in job market compared with other universities' students." VUST has no proof to make these claims.

Violation 7. VUST is in violation of accreditation requirements. Within three years of initial certification new, unaccredited schools must achieve candidacy (or its equivalent) with an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. VUST has not met the benchmark."

Why No F-1 or M-1 Students? VUST cannot issue the Form I-20 that is required for the State Department to issue a visa for a foreign student (and thus generate tuition for the university). This is not because the Department of Homeland Security's passive Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has taken action; it never does. Rather, this is because other educational educations seem to have essentially black-balled VUST.

One of the anomalies of the foreign-student industry is that an institution does not need accreditation to issue the I-20 form that leads to a visa if the school in question is able to find three other institutions say that they will accept transfers from the non-accredited school. Rarely does even the lowest prestige school find that a problem, but VUST does.

A CIS intern, at my request, called admissions at VUST to see if someone she knew from abroad could get an F-1 visa from VUST.

The answer was approximately "call us back in a couple of months, we are waiting for our third letter."

That suggests that two institutions — but only two — have written the letter saying they will accept transfers from VUST. If that third letter appears, but VUST loses its state license, it would still have to close.

Meanwhile, two larger, older marginal universities that major in the admission of foreign students are also in difficulty. Both Virginia International University (VIU) in Fairfax, Va., and North American University (NAU) in Stafford, Texas, near Houston have historically been tied to the conservative Muslim cult headed by Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey, but not the United States, regards as a terrorist organization. The Gulen ties at VIU may have changed given the fact that a foundation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood infused cash into it recently while buying its campus.

VIU's main problem is that, in a separate series of actions, it is in the middle of a revocation process with SCHEV just as VUST is.

NAU's most recent tax filing with IRS, the form 990 for the period ending June 30, 2018, shows that its income fell from $8.7 million the prior year to $5.8 million during the reporting year, all while its expenses increased by $0.4 million, giving it a $3.1 million loss for the year, compared to a profit the prior year of $175,003.

The leaders of all three institutions have Turkish names and ties.

Is VUST's president, Hassan Karaburk, a Gulenist, too? Whether he is at present is unknown, but he has had many ties to the movement in the past. He has reason to be grateful to VIU, for instance, which admitted him as a graduate student in 2000 and granted him an MBA in 2002 while simultaneously employing him as dean of students, then in 2004 apparently secured a green card for him. I say apparently because in that year the website shows VIU filing successfully for a "director of student affairs", but no workers' names are ever displayed in these files. Karaburk was, for several years, the president of an educational service outfit tied to the Gulenists, the Washington Education Foundation.

VUST would seem not to be a Gulenist institution, however, because while the ownership data on it in the form 990 filed with IRS is not crystal clear, the person with the largest stake — and perhaps the majority of the shares — is a Dr. Martin Ma, the founder and, until August, president of VUST. Ma's name would appear to be Chinese.

The writer is grateful to Emma Cummins, a CIS intern, for her research assistance.