College Admissions Cheating Scandal: International Edition

Remember Operation Varsity Blues? You know, the sexy cheating scandal where celebrities bribed coaches to get their kids into top colleges. Well, enter Operation TOEFL Recall. The TOEFL is the international students’ equivalent of an SAT or ACT. It’s designed to determine whether an international student has the reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills necessary to be successful in an American class (taught in English). The ring leader for Operation TOEFL Recall illegally took the exam for over 40 Chinese students, which gave them student visas so they could study in the United States.

According to the Wall Street Journal, universities reported that international students cheat 5 times more than domestic students. The University of Iowa investigated at least 30 Chinese students over allegations of cheating, and in Pennsylvania, 15 Chinese national students were indicted for cheating on the SATs. So now celebrities, ultra-wealthy Americans, and now international students have been caught in the cheating scandal as they try to get their mediocre children into prestigious American colleges.

Chinese families put lots of pressure on their children to get into top colleges. Because many families have just one child, some will do whatever it takes to improve their children’s chances of getting in. Paying someone to pose as their child for the TOEFL and SAT/ACT or paying to get copies of real exams beforehand is considered a gray area. Surprisingly, not all of these Chinese families are wealthy; some make incredible sacrifices to pay for services to get their children into elite American colleges.

One Chinese student paid someone to take his TOEFL, and got into Purdue University. When he arrived in the United States, he paid someone to take all of his classes for 4 years. With his excellent grades, he got into Columbia University for grad school. And, of course, he paid someone to take his classes at Columbia.  This student spent over $1 million on his undergraduate and graduate degrees – and didn’t learn a thing.

This seems ridiculous on so many levels. That Chinese student with a graduate degree from Columbia will never land a job in his claimed area of expertise.  How could he possibly expect that his $1 million education façade will keep him employed when he doesn’t have the knowledge, skills, or experience to do the job? Imagine the guilt he carries as he lives a lie?

Rather than cheat their way into college, these international (and domestic) students could better spend their money on learning the skills and doing a project.  They need to learn the skills to be successful in college classes and future careers.  And, by doing a project, they can explore their passions by developing apps, engineering devices, writing books, starting non-profit organizations, and more. Colleges will recognize their innovative spirit and they’ll get accepted based on their own merit.  Now, that’s a refreshing concept!


New Changes for AP Classes Give Wealthy Students an Advantage

The College Board is changing the date that students need to register for the AP exams from March back to November.  While 4 months may not seem like a big deal, it really is. In November of a school year, the students are just getting into the subject matter and they don’t have a sense for how well they might do on the big AP exam that is taken in May. They’ll have to pay the $94 for the exam, and if they miss the registration deadline, they’ll have to pay an additional $40.  Then, say in March, they realize that they’re not doing well in the class, they would then have to pay yet another $40 to cancel the May exam.  Students who take the AP courses are not required to take the AP exams – they get a course grade that is not tied to the College Boards AP exams.

For wealthy students, these additional fees won’t affect their decisions about taking the exams. Most go to schools where teachers offer study sessions after school and on weekends, and others hire tutors to prepare them for the big test. They can wait until the last minute and cancel the tests.  But for low-income students, they may be more likely to miss the registration deadline, and then also need to cancel the test if they don’t think they’ll do well on it in May.  Most can’t afford AP tutoring and many teachers in these low-income schools don’t offer the same quality of preparation that the upper-income schools do. In the past, over 75% of low-income students don’t pass the AP tests (they scored 1-2; 3-5 is passing).

Instead of taking AP courses, students would learn more and get real college credits by taking a course from the local community college.  They’ll spend the semester learning concepts and engaging in the material instead of wasting 8 months memorizing terms and preparing for one AP exam in May. While in theory, AP courses offers hire caliber material, students are forced to drill down and regurgitate a set amount of material. They spend the whole school year preparing the test, which limits class discussions and teacher creativity.  

It’s unethical to bump back the registration date to November when students are just beginning to learn the concepts.  This hurts all students but especially low-income students because they will probably forgo taking the exams altogether.


Help us Celebrate Mothers Day by Sharing Your Photos

Want to memorialize the mothers in your life?  Post a photo of you with generations of mothers in your family on the California American Mothers Facebook page! We'll make a collage of these photos on Mother's Day on our official website!  Please post your photos and post here: by Friday, May 10th at noon PT. 

Did you know that American Mothers, Inc is the official sponsor of Mother's Day, and it started  back in 1935 with Eleanor Roosevelt!  Let's celebrate Mother's Day with your photos! Here's my photo of my grandmother, mother, me, and my daughter:

American Mothers National Convention in Washington, D.C.

When I was escorted by a military officer into a grand ballroom as the California Mother of the Year, I was proud to represent my progressive state. Networking and meeting the Mothers of the Year from states across the USA, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands was both humbling and inspiring. We all met in Washington DC at the 3-day conference at the historic Mayflower Hotel. I enjoyed learning about each mother's journey through motherhood.

The common thread that wove us together was that we are all momma bears. In our unique ways, we protect, we guide, we overcome, and we cherish our children. Some of us have been raped, some live without modern conveniences, and some are single moms. Others are raising children with challenging disabilities and mental health issues. But we're all moms who have changed our lives so we can be there for our children forever.

We discussed major issues that we face as mothers: child care, gun violence, education/student debt, mental health and more. I shared my platforms for setting up free child care in the home, and getting students to do projects to get into top colleges and win scholarships (without cheating!) while solving major issues we face as a nation -- and as a civilization. Many mothers have set up non-profit organizations and started lucrative businesses to support mothers and children.

I look forward to developing these new friendships and sharing our journeys with the other 2019 Mothers of the Year over this exciting year!

Teen Nicotine Addiction: Vaping

Can’t believe that teens are becoming addicted to e-cigs, just the way that teens had become addicted to cigarettes decades ago.  For years, youth smoking rates have plummeted and I thought smoking was a thing of the past.  After all, why would someone intentionally breathe an addictive substance (nicotine) into their precious lungs? 

e-cigs and "vaping" have their place as a replacement for smoking actual cigarettes that are much worse for you, but there's no excuse for teenagers who have never smoked before to take up vaping.  It's become "cool" just like smoking was when we were teens.

There are very few options for teens to get treatment for e-cig addiction. Parents are desperately looking for insurance-covered outpatient care, but there aren’t many treatment centers. Clinicians recommend patches and gum – but they haven’t been proven effective and they’re designed for adults.

We’ve got to protect our kids from starting a habit that can hurt them. Check their backpacks, read their social media, be informed and be present. Make it difficult for them to vape and set up consequences to prevent them from starting.  Have conversations about the real health concerns about vaping and nicotine – your “nagging” will help them make smart choices, even though they may resent you for it today. 

Early Application Dilemma

Applying early improves odds of getting in, but reduces your financial aid packages.

Applying early admission improves your chances of getting admitted to highly selective colleges IF you have a competitive application.  That means that your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are stellar, and you have something interesting or unique to bring to the freshman class (a project!). This year, top colleges saw a significant increase in early applications (Early Decision and Early Action), and they admitted more students from this pool than regular admissions.

Students who can afford to apply Early Decision because their parents don’t need to consider financial aid, have a big advantage over students who need to compare financial aid packages from several colleges. Almost 30% of students who applied Early Decision (this is binding, which means you have to attend) last year have family incomes of more than $250,000 per year, compared to just 16% of students with families who make less than $50,000. This significantly changes the demographics of the incoming class.

Most high school seniors don’t have the organizational skills to select all of their colleges, complete the applications, write the essays, request letters of recommendation, take the SAT/ACT, and put together portfolios (for art/music) by October or November of the senior year. These students who do apply early are most likely working with a private college advisor who organizes and helps them meet these early deadlines. Again, this system caters to the wealthy. Regular admissions deadlines are usually around December-January (November-December for public colleges) for selective colleges.

If you’re applying to colleges this fall, select a few Early Action colleges and complete the applications and essays during the summer.  Request letters of recommendation during the first week of school – before your fellow students ask – and you’ll be more likely to get those applications completed and improve your odds of getting in! Share this with low-income students so it evens the playing field.  Remember, applying Early Action is not binding so you can wait to compare financial aid packages before making your decision.  If you need a substantial financial aid package, don’t apply Early Decision.


Can't Afford to go to College Because of Childcare Costs?

Check out how I did it for free!

Only 8% of single mothers graduate from college within 6 years. The Achieving a Dream and the Biden Foundation are working together to find solutions to help these mothers go to college and get a degree, but they don’t have any funding.  Congress just increased funding to the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS) from $15 million to $50 million.  This program gives grants to colleges that support child care on campus but supports only 5,000 college students nationwide.

Mothers who don’t have family or friends who can help out with child care can set up free child care in their homes while they go to school and work part-time. I set up a preschool for my 2 daughters for 9 years so I could work full-time. By inviting 3-4 children to join the program and hiring a teacher to teach the classes, the parents’ tuition covered the cost of the teacher’s wages and materials. Check out The Millennial’s Guide to Free Child Care in Your Home to learn how to set this up for your children.


Why are Legacies Legal in the College Admissions Process?

An analysis commissioned by Students for Fair Admissions found that legacy applicants (children of alumni) were accepted at a rate of almost 35% from 2009-2015. Wow – 35%! While this is legal, is it ethical?

On college application forms, just about every college asks applicants if their parents or grandparents are alumni. While admissions decisions are determined by a wide variety of rubrics, Brown University offers their alumni special counseling to help their children prepare to apply to Brown. They call it the Alumni College Advising Program and it is free for these lucky students. Each of these students gets 3 hours of advising. They’re also offered one-on-one meetings with Brown faculty, who then write letters of recommendation to the admissions office.  The admissions committees favor applicants who “demonstrate interest” and these special meetings and letters satisfy that interest. Really?

If colleges are accepting students because their parents are alumni and they’ve donated huge sums of money, I wonder how that’s different from parents who bribe admissions officers to get their kids in. When they bribe admissions committees with new buildings or sports arenas, their less-qualified students get in while better-qualified students are denied admission.  The median family income of students at Brown is $204,000, and 70% of the student body comes from the top 20% of family income in the United States. Hmm. While the rich negotiate deals behind closed doors, and the honest, hard-working families don’t get in because Brown seems to value legacies more than merit.


All Families Should be Able to Afford Child Care

Affordable child care continues to plague both families and day care workers.  The cost of child care often exceeds the cost of tuition at four-year public universities! That’s ridiculous!

Then, consider that day care workers make on average less than $23,000/year and 75% of them earn less than a living wage. So naturally, there’s a shortage of child care in most cities across the nation.

This hits low-income families the hardest because they pay about 30% of their income for child care. Higher-income families pay only about 8% of their income for child care.

The Child Care for Working Families Act proposes to cover 90% of the cost of infant-toddler care and meet quality standards and provide a living wage to teachers. Unfortunately, the current administration will only give funds to states that “remove unnecessary regulations” and the funds are insufficient to make a difference in the current child care crisis.